ABCs of Bulb Gardening

Flowering plants that overwinter and multiply by means of fleshy stems of leaves are called bulbs. The bulbs we grow in our gardens today are native to temperate zones all over the world, the woodlands, meadows and mountains of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North America.

The Dutch have been extremely successful over the centuries in collection and hybridizing new species of bulbs and improving them for reliable garden performance. Tulips in particular, once played an important role in the Dutch economy.

There is no easier plant to cultivate than a bulb.

Planted at the right time, in a loose, well-draining soil, bulbs will bloom punctually year after year and even spread (“naturalize”) if conditions are to their liking.

By planting a sequence of spring-, summer- and fall-flowering bulbs at the appropriate time, you can enjoy their blooms practically year ‘round.

Fall (late September through late November) – Plant hardy, spring-flowering bulbs: tulips, narcissus (includes all types of daffodils), crocus, eranthis (winter aconites), erythronium, fritillaria, hyacinths snowdrops, scilla, hardy cyclamen, lilies. In California and milder areas of the Southwest, also plant ranunculus, freesias, anemones and paperwhites outdoors. Store tulips, crocus and hyacinths in refrigerator for 6-8 weeks before planting. In all regions, store potted bulbs in refrigerator for forcing indoors.

Winter – In California, plant prechilled- hardy bulbs outdoors. In all regions, remove sprouted bulbs from refrigerator for indoor forcing.

Spring – Plant more tender, summer-flowering bulbs: achimenes, gladioli, alliums, calla lilies, tuberous begonias, ixia, crocosmia, dahlias, cannas.

Late Summer – Plant the late bloomers: fall crocus, fall- and winter-blooming hardy cyclamen.

Gardening Tips for Beginners

When it comes to setting out your garden for the first time – or even for the twentieth time – there are some simple tips to follow to make sure you get the best possible results.

If you read through these gardening tips before you get started, your garden will thrive. You’ll also set yourself for continuing success in coming years, as these pointers will set you in the right direction for sustainable gardening.

1. Always have a plan.

Before you start buying anything and everything to plant, create a plan for how you want the garden to turn out. Do you want something you can ‘set and forget’, or something that you will have to give attention to regularly? Do you want flowers, or fruit? Start with the end in mind and choose what to plant according to the plan.

2. Make things easy on yourself.

Don’t have all your gardening tools stashed away in a shed right at the back of your property. Keep your gardening tools handy, so that whenever you have a few minutes, you can just pop out and do any maintenance and upkeep that’s needed for the day.

3. Cut out all the weeds.

Don’t tolerate weeds at all. Instead of trying to pull them up by the roots – and risking them growing back if you miss some – try the spade method. Get a sharp spade, dig down under grass, and sever the weed from it’s root system. Then you can plant them upside down, leaves in the earth, so that as they die they nourish your garden instead of ruining it!

4. Go all out with mulch.

Your plants need feeding, just like any other living organism. Get some good quality, organic mulch and spread it liberally over the garden. Use a flat-head rake to spread it out evenly and to avoid big clump rotting the plants beneath.

5. Go easy on the watering.

Your garden needs watering, but it’s wise to avoid high-pressure hoses. Opt for a slow, gentle stream or a wide dispersible option so as not to flood small plants or to make the soil so wet that the roots rot.


The Best Bulbs To Plant In The Fall

You might think I’ve lost it a little, talking about fall already. But I’ve had a few questions, and planning ahead is the key to creating a magnificent garden.

As any experienced gardener will know, fall (or autumn, depending on where you’re from!) is the best time of year to be planting. While it’s tempting to toddle off inside where the nippy air won’t chill you, if you want a glorious spring garden then fall is the time to make it happen.

You see, contrary to what you might think, bulbs get very busy during the winter.

If you pick a hardy bunch of varieties, they will be busy all throughout the cold months, germinating, putting roots down, and ever so slowly emerging towards the surface.

Fall is also the time when you have the opportunity to really design your garden. Much of the foliage will have fallen away, and you’ll be able to remove any plants you don’t want any more with much greater ease.

Once this is done, you can put your effort into planting your bulbs in a stunning design, so that when spring comes and everything blooms, your garden will be just spectacular.

A few tips before we get onto the actual bulb selection: Plant your bulbs any time before the ground freezes, but preferably no later than a week or two before it happens. Make sure the area you are in planting in drains well, and that there will be plenty of sunshine hitting it.

Add some gentle mulch or fertiliser after planting, but keep it away from the bulb itself, as the acidity can damage fledgling roots.

Now – what you came for. Here are the best bulbs to plant in the fall:

  • Dutch Iris
  • Species Tulips
  • Parrot Tulip
  • Darwin Hybrid Tulip
  • Daffodils
  • Grecian Windflower
  • Crocus
  • Checkered Lily
  • Snowdrop
  • Hyacinth
  • Siberian Squill
  • Allium
  • Crown Imperial
  • Anemones
  • Freesia

Get a bunch of these bulbs and arrange them all around your garden. Plant them in clusters for a huge visual impact when they flower in the spring and you can truly appreciate all your hard work.


Three New Gardening Projects

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had quite the greenthumb’s honour, being asked not once, not twice but THREE times to help people overhaul their gardens.

Mine is all laid out ready for next season, and really only needs a little upkeep – so I’m thrilled at the chance to get out into the earth some more.

The first people to call on me were the local council.

They’ve been renovating a wing of their chambers, and decided it was high time the exterior of the building was just as lovely as the inside. The main aspect of the project there will be shaping the grounds into something more cohesive.

They have a lovely lawn and some topiary, but they are generally not very well tended, so I will be helping them create a schedule to maintain their plants on. We’ll also be arranging some bulbs to be planted as soon as possible, which will later bloom into the town crest as a pretty tribute to the chambers.

Secondly, a neighbour called to say that they were renovating – and would I be interested in helping them redesign the garden? Hard to say no to such an offer as that!

We’ve been busily pulling up pavers, extracting dead saplings and bushes, and carefully transplanting their favourite plants and flowers into pots until we can plant them again in a less chaotic fashion. We’ve mapped out how all the bulbs will be planted, and are in the process of acquiring a vast array of crocuses, freesias, tulips and daffodils to plant before the chilly weather sets in in earnest.

Finally, our humble little town has recently acquired its very own massage therapist!

You can only imagine the fuss as all us old ladies started thinking of how nice a massage would be after a stint bent over in the garden! Needless to say, I went over and introduced myself, and by the time I’d left, Mary – the therapist – had asked if I’d give her a hand crafting what she called a peace garden. Somewhere full of beautiful flowers and fruit trees, with trestles and climbing vines and the like.

She’s going to trade me gardening hours for massages, which seems too good to be true! And having had a little peek at her massage room and that luxurious looking massage couch, I think this is going to be my favourite project of the lot.

The Best Flower Bulbs To Plant In The Shade

Wouldn’t it be glorious to have a garden that got just the perfect amount of sunshine day in and day out? Never having to worry if your delicate planters were going to cope with the hours of shade, or whether they’d be scorched to a crisp by the heat?

We can all dream, but for most of us in the gardening community, it’s not a reality. Most of our gardens feature a patchwork quilt of sunshine, shade and dappling. And we simply must have our gardens looking splendid, so we must work within the limitations.

Fortunately, there are a variety of bulbs that are very hardy while also being extremely attractive to the eye.

So what are the best flower bulbs to plant in the shade? Well, when you dig down a bit, there’s actually quite a list!

  • Lily of the valley
  • English bluebell
  • Wood anemone
  • Spanish bluebell
  • Grecian woodflower
  • Siberian squill
  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding heart
  • Coral bell
  • Fern
  • Helleborus
  • Hosta
  • Jack in the pulpit (also known as calla lily)
  • Primrose
  • Toad lily
  • Windflower
  • Orange candleflower
  • Cyclamen
  • Heucherella

As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of variety among shade-dwelling bulbs. Any combination of these would bring a vivid and lively element to your garden, making sure that the shady patches are no longer letting you down.

Getting Quality Flowers from Quality Bulbs

When it comes to creating your garden, every flower can seem like a personal success, and every un-sprung bulb an insult. You put in a tremendous amount of work to make a garden beautiful, and I want to make sure your efforts are receiving their just rewards.

Here are some simple tips on getting the most out of your bulbs:

  • Plant your bulbs soon after you purchase them. This will make sure they are healthy and unlikely to succumb to rot before they have a chance to sprout.
  • Give your bulbs room to grow. There’s no need to have them squished in very close together, unless you are aiming to create a ‘carpet’ of a particular flower. Some bulbs may not sprout, and this is much more obvious in a very organised planting style. Place the bulbs at random in order to create a more natural look in the garden.
  • Keep your labels! If you take all your bulbs out of their packaging and then discard the labels, you simply won’t be able to stick to your design – there’s really no way of telling one colour bulb from another, and you can quickly become very anxious if you don’t know which bulbs are going where.
  • Make sure the drainage is good. If water is going to pool around the bulbs, they won’t make it to spring – they will have rotted long before they can even sprout.
  • If your garden has never been ‘worked’ before, then you probably don’t need much in the way of fertiliser – especially if you are using new bulbs. The soil will still be nutrient-rich, and the bulbs will still be little powerhouses. If the garden has been in use for a long time, or the bulbs are perennials, then a nice fertiliser can help. Compost, peat, or manure are the best options here.
  • If you are using fertiliser, never put it into the planting hole. On top of the soil is just fine – if it’s in with the bulb, the acidity can scorch the roots and bring growth to a standstill. And avoid that horrible Blood and Bone stuff – it smells revolting and brings animals to scratch around, looking for buried treats, when all they end up digging up are your bulbs.

How To Choose And Plant Your Bulbs

Planting your flower bulbs should be an deep, satisfying, communing-with-the-earth experience. But that’s not to say that you can just hum along to some old hippie tunes and expect your garden to turn out like the Botanical Gardens.

There is a fine art to choosing your bulbs and then planting them correctly.

To begin with, let’s go over how to choose the best quality bulbs that will give you the best flowers and foliage.

  • Always get your bulbs from a reputable nursery or gardening store. Like anything, cheap imitations can be had, but the results are always sub-par and disappointing.
  • Never choose bulbs that seem soft or have any traces of mould on them. The best quality bulbs will be firm and free of any abrasions or growths, with a light papery skin.
  • Choose big bulbs over small – small bulbs are often not strong enough to bloom, whereas the larger ones tend to be hardier and more persistent.

Make sure you select bulbs from a variety of different flower species. Blocks of colour are great, but you don’t want your entire garden to be one single type of flower.

Next up, it’s important to make sure your planting methodology is sound.

  • Before you so much as look at a shovel, you need to decide how you want the garden to look. Do you want giant clumps of colour, or do you want everything running together? Decide ahead of time what the design of the garden will be. Make sure your bulbs will sprout in the areas where your design places them (consider the amount of light, shade etc they will need)
  • Loosen the earth before trying to put a bulb in. Make sure there’s plenty of movement and that the soil is not compacted. Then you can place each bulb down into the earth, at a depth about three times the width of the bulb.
  • Plant generously and in a relaxed way – some bulbs may not sprout, so don’t be rigid about how far apart you’re spacing each bulb. Place each bulb a few inches apart in a rough pattern.
  • Place the bulb point-up. This is where the bulb will sprout and start pushing toward the sun, so it’s your job to make that as easy as possible. Most bulbs have an obvious point, but some do not. If unsure, plant the bulb on its side and trust nature to do the rest.
  • Lightly water the newly planted bulbs. Lightly. You don’t want to floor them and then have them rot. And unless it becomes extremely dry, you don’t need to do this again, as the moisture from rain over the coming weeks will be enough.