by Charlene Burgi
The drought should not hold us back when it comes to planting fall bulbs. These little treasures are wrapped up with all that is needed, except soil, to bring splendor to our gardens. They can even be planted in areas that are void of irrigation. And we are in prime time to acquire some amazing future color for the garden without the worry of what the winter weather holds in store. Local nurseries should have large selections of various color combinations of classic daffodils, tulips, and crocus in addition to bulbs not so well known.
You see, there are so many other bulbs that do not get the press that the aforementioned bulbs receive. For example, Chionodoxa, known as glory-of-the-snow, is a tiny bulb that blooms early in the spring and produces short, small iridescent flowers that are stunning against a rock outcropping. The first blooming flowers in the garden found me scurrying outdoors last spring to get a better look at their magnificent bell-shaped flowers.
Alliums, on the other hand, can grow as tall as four feet depending on the variety chosen. They carry their bulbous flower atop the stem looking much like a tightly clustered Agapanthus sitting proud above the leafless stem. They are related to the onion family. These bulbs make more of a statement when they are clustered together and add height to a drab area.
To add interest to those giants, throw in a few Fritillaria whose large, pendulous, bell-shaped flowers gently sway in the spring breeze. These flowers come in striking shades ranging from yellow to orange to chocolate brown. There is even a checker-patterned flower for the whimsical garden.
Puschkinia scalloides, otherwise known as striped squill, is on my list, along with daffodils, for bulbs that deer won’t devour. These fragrant blue beauties will naturalize in the garden if given moist, well-drained soil. Placing them toward the bottom of a slope will assure they receive enough water from the natural drainage of the slope. Mixed together, the combination of yellow- and blue-colored bulbs will be stunning.
And speaking of well-drained soil, bulbs, like most plants, do not like sitting in water. Make certain that the heavy clay soil — famous in Marin — is well amended for quick drainage. Some folks add bone meal to the area before planting to improve drainage.
Are you unsure where to place your bulbs? Your garden can help you decide. Some people prefer a formal multi-row appearance, which works well in a garden with hedges. Others take the wild, meadow-like approach and toss the bulbs in the air, then plant them where they fall. Others plant in drifts by removing the soil to the depth required for each bulb type (usually three times the depth of the bulb), placing the bulbs within that area, and covering with the soil that was removed.
Don’t be afraid to layer your bulbs. Some require planting to a depth of six inches, while other bulbs may only need two inches of soil for cover. Plant them on top of each other and look for early, mid-, or late season bloom times to extend the flowering period. And don’t forget your containers. Pick up a few bulbs and tuck them into containers to set alongside your doorway. Many bulbs are fragrant, and nothing beats the whiff of an old-fashioned Freesia to greet you coming and going.
Planting bulbs in the fall requires so little of our time and gives so much in return. Try it, you won’t be sorry!