that the more you know about the stories behind these flowers,
the more you will love and
cherish them.With respect to planting these flower bulbs, the time hascome. In Hardiness Zones 1-4, you
should be planting now. You have at most 2-3 weeks left. I
n Hardiness Zones 5-7, you can start
now and you have until the beginning of January. In Hardiness
Zones 8-9, you can start planting
in mid-November and continue through the Christmas holidays,
but in Zones 8-9 you should
refrigerate the bulbs for at least 8 weeks before planting
Whether you plant directly in the ground or in containers,
you must add bone meal to the soil. In
containers you should double the amount recommended from th
e package. When planting bulbs
err on the deep side
meaning, if it says plant 4-6 inches deep, make sure your
bulbs are at least
6 inches deep. Sometimes this helps with critter control.
Unless you are experiencing a severe drought, DO NOT water after
planting your bulbs. Always
plant more densely when planting bulbs in containers. Th
e overpopulated effect is much more
The bulbs we are going to discuss in this newsletter have al
l been discussed in prior newsletters
this season, but I wanted to remind you of a few that, in my
opinion, are outstanding and belong
The Species Tulips
Two things to remember about Species Tulips that make them standouts: the critters leave them alone and they return year after year and multiply.
Some plants you grow for their stunning beauty, some for the
ir unforgettable fragrance, some
because they are just weird, but once in a while you grow a pl
ant because it is so darn
entertaining. Because it is so darn entertaining, and pretty
as well, you must grow Tulipa
Sylvestris.Sylvestris was collected from the wild at least 500 years
ago. It was first described in 1576. It is
NOT your typical tulip. In fact, for a long time it was
believed to be some weird kind of daffodil.
As it emerges from the soil and until it reaches full height, the blossom stem with its bud arches
in a graceful, but fragile curve. When planted in a drift
of at least 10 bulbs, the plants appear
dramatically windblown, bracing for yet another gust. The o
uter yellow petals are netted with
green and a touch of maroon at the pointed tips.The fragrant
flowers are sunshine yellow. The
inner petals have a pronounced green midrib and all the petals
are strongly pointed. Each
blossom is held on a seemingly, delicate (but not really), t
hin green stem which may fade to
maroon where it joins the blossom.
The drama reaches its height when the blossom opens up fully. Like a beautiful woman with
long, stunning, thick hair who tosses her head back in a mome
nt of sheer glamour, Sylvestris
abandons its drooping, supplicant-inspired stance, tosses its
opulent bud back and explodes into
sunshine yellow. The performance is Oscar-winning quality.
The plant reaches a height of 12 inches and is hardy fr
om Hardiness Zones 4-8. It is best planted
in drifts of 10 bulbs or more. The bulbs should be planted
5-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart.
It will return year after year and doubles in number about every 2 years.
The Clusiana species tulips were also collected from th
e wild more than 500 years ago. They
were named to honor the famous 17
century botanist Carolus Clusius who reported that the
tulip made its way to Florence from Constantinople in 1606. Clusius received bulbs from a
Florentine, Matthaeus Caccini, and the plant flowered f
or Clusius in April 1607. The early bulbs
produced pinkish white blossoms with deep purple centers. In
1959, the famous Dutch nursery,
Van Tubergen Ltd. made available several cultivars of the or
iginal Clusiana tulip.Clusiana var. Chrysantha appears to be indigenous to the
high altitudes of Afghanistan, Kashmir,
the Himalayas and Tibet. It is interesting to note here
that the plant is believed to produce a
yellow blossom at the highest altitudes. At lower altitudes,
the outside of each petal turns red or
Like Sylvestris, Clusiana var. Chrysantha is pure garden
entertainment. When you plant this
bulb, you must plant it in drifts of at least 25 because
the plant and bud are so tiny that you will
easily miss them if you plant only a few. The tightly cl
osed buds are no more than an inch tall
and half an inch in diameter. They are supported, very er
ect, on fragile green stems that fade to
maroon where the stem reaches the bud. The petals are o
range to red and finely edged with
yellow. I cannot emphasize enough how tiny they are.
Then, as with Sylvestris, when the buds open the drama
takes place. Each tiny bud produces a
platter of yellow, and when included in a drift of 25 bulbs cr
eates an ocean of color. You will
marvel each day as the drama repeats itself. Each night
the blossoms fold back into the tight, tiny
bud and each morning the bud unfurls. It is absolutely delightful
The plant reaches a height of 6-8 inches and is hardy
from Hardiness Zones 4-8. It is best
planted in drifts of 25 bulbs or more. The bulbs should be pl
anted 5-6 inches deep and 3-4 inches
apart. If planted in a protected area, it will return year a
fter year and doubles in number about
every 2 years.
Humilis Violacea is a must have! They don
t create tulips any smaller than this one (3-5 inches
at most), but few flowers have the intensity of color th
at this little sprite has. Anna Pavord in her
marvelous book, BULB, describes the blossom so exquisitely
when she writes,
From a narrow, funnel-like base, the flower opens into a goblet of rich rosy-mauve
Yes, that is exactly what happens, but it is hard to appreci
ate unless you are staring at a carpet of
these flowers. They should be planted in drifts of no les
s than 25 bulbs. They also make lovely
container plants because of their short height and in
Violacea is as rugged as they come. The plant is native
to Northern Iran and Iraq and south and
eastern Turkey where it grows on the rocky slopes at elev
ations of 10,000-12,000 feet. There, in
the harshest of climates, it produces breathtaking beauty.
The plant was introduced in Europe
around 1860 and became known as the Red Crocus Tulip because i t bloomedatthe same time as
the crocus and was similar in size.
The plant reaches a height of 3-5 inches and is hardy
from Hardiness Zones 3-8. It is best
planted in drifts of 25 bulbs or more. The bulbs should be
planted 5-6 inches deep and 2-3
inches apart. It multiplies rapidly, doubling in number of bulbs yearly.
Collection, my favorite is Tulipa
Saxatilis. The photo above is from my own garden taken many
years ago. Saxatilis is one of the
taller Species Tulips. In my garden it reaches a height o
f 8 inches, but it is the blossoms that are
truly unforgettable. About half of each petal is lilac which
then melts to a sparkling white which
in turn melts to a sunshine yellow at the base. The gentle
progression of colors makes each
blossom stunning. I can hardly wait each spring for this one
to bloom.Saxatilis is actually native to the islands of Greece, s
pecifically the high, flat Omalos Plain
where it can be found growing in old vineyards, olive groves an
d on rocky cliffs. It was
introduced into commercial cultivation in 1825, but grew in popul
arity in 1895 when it was
shown at The Royal Horticultural Society’s London Exhibition.I have been growing it in true Zone 4 conditions for many
years, but most who know this tulip
will tell you that it does best in Zones 5-8. Saxatilis
shows best when planted in drifts of at least
10 bulbs. Bulbs should be planted 4 inches deep and no more t
han 3 inches apart.
This ancient tulip was collected sometime during the 1500s and in
troduced to the European and
British public in the 1800s. It was also known as The Fire Fla
me and The Turkish Tulip. It is not
often offered to the public.This tulip is very tall for a Species Tulip, often reachi
ng a height of 14-16 inches, but the truly
extraordinary aspect of this tulip is its uniquely narrow, lo
ng, gracefully curving, yellow petals
that are trimmed in scarlet. The visual impact is substan
tial and memorable.
Anna Pavord in her treatise on tulips titled, The Tulip, provi
des this historical description:
|“This was one of several newly introduced species that the Rev. Henry Harpur Crewe
Acuminata shows best when planted in drifts of at least 10 bulbs. Bulbs should be planted 6
inches deep and 3-4 inches apart.
For such a tiny tulip (5 inches) this little guy makes a huge
statement in your garden. The
striking purple base can be easily seen as the blossom
s pure white petals unfold. The contrast o
the purple against the white is simply stunning.Tulipa humilis is actually a group of tiny wild tulips whose colo
rs range from the deepest
burgundy to the dazzling white of Alba Coerulea Oculata. The
y are known to inhabit the areas
above 10,000 feet in the Hamadan Province of Iran.
Alba Coerulea Oculata is an early bloomer. Bulbs are diff
icult to source so we are only able to
offer a bag of 5 bulbs. No larger quantities are available.
Bulbs should be planted 4-6 inches
deep and 2-3 inches apart. This tulip will return each year a
nd will multiply
number about every 3 years.
It is a treasure from the tulip kingdom’s ancient past.
family of tulips was unknown to Europeans and Americans unt
il the latter part of
century when Russian travelers began to explore the regi
ons of Central Asia. The plants
are primarily native to Tadjikistan where they grow on ste
ep hillsides at an elevation of 6000
are white with deep purple blotches at their base, but ‘Fuselier’is much
different. It is much shorter, growing to a height of
10-12 inches. Its blossoms are a truly
brilliant scarlet and are the largest of the ‘Praestans’
. Each stem may produce multiple blossoms.
It is the showiest of the Species Tulips. It produces a
definitive presence in the garden with as
little as 5 tulips. A drift containing 10-25 bulbs will be a domi
nant spectacle in any size garden.
Bulbs should be planted 6 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart.
If you miss seeing the tulips in the spring, try the Species
Tulips.They are smaller than the grand
tulips that the deer love so much, but their colors are
becoming as vivid and the ones described in
this newsletter, when planted in sufficient numbers, will
produce a springtime garden as showy
as any tulip garden.
The Rock Garden Irises
For whatever the reason, Rock Garden Iris do not appeal to the garden’s critters. The deer,
moles, voles and rabbits tend to ignore them.
These sturdy, vigorous little troopers of the early spring
garden deserve more attention. They
bloom so early that sometimes they bloom before the sn
owdrops. They are an important
pollinator plant because at the time they are producing bloss
oms few other plants are in bloom,
thus they are critical for bees. They are also among
the most forgiving of spring bulbs/tubers.
They survive, even flourish, in poor soil, drought and strong
wind conditions. They thrive when
their rhizomes are barely buried in soil with good drainage
and full sunlight.
Iris reticulata Harmony was introduced in 1953. It is the dar
kest of the Rock Garden Irises with
standards and falls that vary from dark purple to dark blue. Some
times the standards and falls
exhibit white or yellow blotches.
Iris danfordiae was introduced in 1876. She is a fragrant, sunshine yellow charmer. Her bottom petals, known as ‘falls’, are usually much broader than those of her cousins, Iris reticulatas Cantab and Harmony.
These broader falls give her an air of voluptuousness that Alida and Harmony just do not have. She rarely reaches a height over 4 inches, and she is hardy from Zone 4 to Zone 9.
I think every spring garden should have at least one variety of Rock Garden Iris. They epitomize everything that is wonderful about the flowers of spring – beauty, fragrance, exotic shape, intrigue and vigor. Iris danfordiae possesses all of these qualities and more.
For 100 years, an heirloom Iris Reticulata known as Can
tab graced many gardens, but in recent
years the commercial stock of Cantab coming from Europe
has had many problems. Alida has
been introduced to replace Cantab.
Like Cantab, Alida’s blossom is a stunning flax blue. The
shape and size of the standards and falls (upper and lower petals) is nearly identical to Cantab.
Because of their tiny size, it is recommended that you
plant Iris Reticulatas in drifts of 10-25
bulbs. They multiply quickly, doubling in number approximately
yearly. Iris reticulata bulbs are
prone to splitting. Sometimes deep planting prevents this.
The recommended planting depth is 4
inches with 4 inches between bulbs. To prevent splitting,
try planting at a depth of 6 inches.
Iris Reticulatas make excellent container plants, but pl
ant the bulbs much closer together (1-2
inches) and feed them lots of bone meal in rich (1/2 topsoil
and ½ peat moss and 1/2c. bonemeal)
soil. Once they start to bloom, you may want to bring small po
ts inside to enjoy their blossoms.
have found that all Iris Reticulatas are hardy in my
Zone 4 garden where they bloom at the end
of March or early April. In Hardiness Zones 5-8, these
irises can bloom as early as January. In
my opinion, this very special little family of flowers bel
ongs in every garden
. and by the way,
THE BEES AGREE WITH ME!!!
Iris reticulata Harmony was introduced in 1953. It is the darkest of the Rock Garden Irises with standards and falls that vary from dark purple to dark blue. Sometimes the standards and falls exhibit white or yellow blotches.
Critter Resistant Bulbs – The Alliums
Of all the ‘critter resistant’ bulbs that we discuss, the Alliums are the most ‘critter resistant’. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice, moles and voles cannot stand the smell of Alliums. The fragrance is so strong and so offensive to critters that Alliums can be used to deter the critters from tulips and other more vulnerable bulbs. A critter has to be really desperate to eat an Allium.
This is my favorite Allium! Years ago, long before the i
nternet, having not paid attention to its
description, I planted 3 bulbs. In the spring, these exquisi
te, broad, fleshy, gray-green leaves
edged in burgundy emerged from the soil.”Wow,”
“You could grow this plant just for its leaves alone.”
Then I waited and waited and finally these large buds grew out of
the center of the plant looking
like the onion domes on St. Basil
s Cathedral in Moscow. When the bud stems were about 4
inches tall, the buds burst and a softball-sized, white ball
“What the heck is wrong with these Alliums. Why aren’t they getting tall?”
Then I read the description and learned that Allium Karatibiense never gets taller than 6 inches,
but those white balls still command a huge presence in the garden. Clusters of 3 bulbs are all you
need for most gardens.
Allium Karativiense was collected from the wild in the Kara
tau Mountains by the Russian
plantsman, Nikolai Sewerzow. It was introduced in 1878.
Plant these bulbs a good 6 inches deep and 8 inches apart. Th
ey multiply rapidly, so think about
separating them in 3 years. If you let them get crowded, the
white balls get smaller and smaller and that is no fun.
Known as the Drumstick Allium, Allium Sphaerocephalon produces a
1 inch pear-shaped blob
on the tip of a slender, 24-30 inch green stem. Initially t
he blob, is mostly green with a cap of
burgundy, but as the blob matures, the burgundy slowly cove
rs the entire blob.Sphaerocephalon is the last of the Alliums to bloom in my garde
n and the longest bloomer. It
starts mid-summer and finishes in late August. You can star
t with a cluster of five bulbs, but 10
The fact to remember about this Allium is that the older
it gets, the bigger the flowerhead
becomes. Three to five year old plants, that have enjoyed
where they are planted, can have
flowerheads that are as much as 3 inches tall.
Allium Sphaerocephalon is native to Europe from the British
Isles to the Caucasus, north Africa
and Israel. It is very easy to grow and can tolerate mo
ister soil than most Alliums.
Plant the bulbs 3-4 inches deep and 3 inches apart. This Alliu
m multiplies rapidly, so plant to
divide it every 3-4 years. If you let Sphaerocephalon get cr
owded, the flowerheads will become
smaller and smaller and may not even appear at all.
Native bulbs. It is native to the West
Coast from California northward to Washington State. It is known
as Graceful Beauty and that
moniker is perfect for this flower. When you look at a photo,
your initial impression is that this is
a white flower with something indescribable about it. The ind
escribable is the softest of lavender
coloration that occurs on the midribs of each tiny peta
l. Sometimes the color is lavender,
sometimes it is pink. That tiny bit of color adds a grac
efulness to the overall impression that the
flowerhead presents.The plants are usually 12-16 inches tall, and the soft globes are never more than 1-2 inches in
diameter. It pairs well with Allium Azureum but never as a m
ixture. It is better to place a drift of
Azureum in back of a drift of Amplectens.
Plant these bulbs in drifts of 10 at least 4 inches deep and
3 inches apart. They double in number
every 2-3 years and should be divided every 3-4 years. The
y will stop blooming if allowed to get
ething unique and very special to
recommend them. Schubertii is without question the showi
est of all the Alliums and one of the
most unusual flowers available today. It was introduced in 1843.It grows abundantly in Palestine, Syria, northern Iran and western Turkestan where it nestles in
the rich soil trapped among the large rocks on hillsides. It
loves the intense heat of summer sun-
What makes this Allium so exceptional is its flowerhead whi
ch is a mixture of 4-6 inch flower
stalks randomly interspersed among 6-8 inch flower stalks.
When fully mature, the flowerhead is
nearly a perfect globe as much as 16 inches in diameter givi
ng the impression of an exploding
firecracker, hence the nickname, The Firecracker Allium.
Plant these bulbs at least 6 inches deep and 20 inches apart
. Schubertiis show best when their
globes are not overlapping and you are allowed to appreciate e
ach single exploding firecracker.
Critter Resistant Bulbs
Bulbocodium conspicuous Golden Bells, AKA the Yellow Hoop Petti
coat narcissus, (pictured
above) may be the most uniquely shaped narcissus that you will
ever see. The 5 inch tall plants
produce 3-4 flower stems. Each stem carries a brilliant ye
llow flower shaped like a funnel
emerging from a tiny yellow star-shaped group of petals. The l
eaves are grass-like and
This narcissus is native to Spain, Portugal and southwestern F
rance and was introduced into
cultivation around 1629. Bulbocodium conspicuous is a Species Na
rcissus. These narcissi are the
closest varieties we have to the wild narcissi.
It shows best when planted in drifts of 10 bulbs or more. B
ulbs should be planted 4-5 inches
deep and no more than 4 inches apart. It is an excellent na
turalizer and hardy from Hardiness
Canaliculatis is a lovely, dainty daffodil that reaches
a height of no more than 6-8 inches and
can be shorter. It is said to be hardy in Zones 8-9, but
I grow it in Zone 4 after planting it 6-8
inches deep. Each flower stem can contain up to 7 blossoms.The blossoms remind me of a bulbocodium hoop petticoat
surrounded by large, white petals.
Each blossom is no more than 2 inches in diameter. Th
e blossoms produce a sweet scent
nowhere near as strong as Albus Plenus Odoratus.
Known as the ”
Orchid Narcissus”, this lovely plant produces up to 5 slightly drooping,
white flowers with a slight pinkish tinge. The
‘chaos’produces the effect of a drift of white
blossoms dancing across the garden. The blossoms are quite longlasting.
Thalia was introduced into cultivation in 1915. It is hardy fr
om Hardiness Zones 4-9.
The 16-18 inch plant shows best when planted in drifts of
at least 5 bulbs or more. Bulbs should
be planted 6-8 inches deep and no more than 4 inches apart
ose blossom is entirely yellow. The
petals are a soft yellow with a round cup that can be sligh
tly paler. Blossom stems may produce
as many as 8 flowers. The flowers bloom in succession lea
ving the impression of avery long-
lasting bloom. Plants can reach a height of 12 inches an
d are hardy from Hardiness Zones 4-9.Hawera was developed before 1928 by plant developer, Dr. William Thompson, in Hawera, New
Zealand. The plant is a cross between N. jonquilla and N.
triandus. Its leaves are thin and rush-
It shows best when planted in drifts of 10 bulbs or more. B
ulbs should be planted 6-8 inches
deep and no more than 3 inches apart.
These narcissus are enchanting garden plants, but they also
are exceptional container plants. In
containers, plant them densely. Four of the five narcis
sus can be forced in soil. Bulbocodium
does not force well.
Try at least one of these for next spring. They are r
are and enchanting and a great addition for
Critter Resistant Bulbs
It’s hard to imagine a spring garden without Grape Hyacinths. When
it comes to the modern
American spring garden they are magic. The blooms of muscar
i last longer than any other
flower. Stems produce blossoms in succession providing flowers
for weeks at a time. Critters
usually do not touch them. They multiply rapidly, and they re
quire little or no maintenance. They
exhibit well as a drift blanketing a hillside in color, as a
group in a small pot or forced in a pot on
a window sill inside.
Muscari, also known as Grape Hyacinths or Pearls of Spain,
are indigenous to the Mediterranean
region where more than 50 different varieties can be fo
und. The plants have been cultivated for
many centuries. By 1576, cultivation notes indicated that m
uscari collected in Spain was being
grown in gardens throughout Europe.
Valerie Finnes, the person, was one of the most famous an
d influential people in horticulture of
century. She was reknown as a photographer, gardener, activi
st and artist.
In 1975 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded her its most
coveted prize, The Victoria Medal
of Honour, for her many faceted contributions to horticulture.Valerie Finnes, the Muscari, is almost as remarkable as h
er namesake. Muscari are meant to be
planted in large clusters that drift over a hillside, slope
, meadow or lawn. Most Muscari are deep
purple or blue, but Valerie Finnes is a striking, vibrant pale blue. A cluster of Muscari
is simply unforgettable.
first appeared as a sport in the garden of Valerie Finnes,
AKA Lady Scott. Several bulbs were shared with the Calif
ornia horticulturalist, Wayne
Roderick, who in turn passed bulbs to the Dutch nurseryman, Wim
de Goede, who introduced it
in the 1990s.
Plant at least 25 bulbs at a time unless planting in pots
. If planting in pots, a 6-inch diameter pot
can hold 8-10 bulbs. They can be forced by planting in pots
and refrigerated or otherwise
subjected to 35-40 degree F cold for at least 10 weeks.
They are hardy from Zone 4 to Zone 8.
is a pure creamy white Grape Hyacinth that is native to
France and Italy and
was introduced in 1896. It is the most fanous of the white Grape
Hyacinths. Unlike the other
blooms later and is usually slightly smaller. It can reach a height of
10 inches, but rarely does. It usually reaches a height of 4-
These bulbs should be planted much closer than other Muscari
no more than 2 inches apart, but
should be planted 4-6 inches deep. It is hardy from Zone
One Final Reminiscence
Of all the horticultural subjects that I write about th
roughout the year, it is the stories
surrounding the bulbs that are planted in autumn producing blos
soms in the spring that I find
most heartwarming. Most of you may not realize this, but v
ery few of the bulbs that we know
and love are native to North America. The Camassias an
d Allium Amplectens are the only native
bulbs that I know of.
This means that most of the beauty that comes with th
e spring blooming bulbs was brought to us
from abroad and brought to us early
the 1600s and the 1700s. Daffodils, for example, were
brought to North America by some of the early settlers in
Jamestown and Williamsburg in the
early 1600s. By the late 1600s drifts of volunteer daffodil
s were described growing in Norther
Imagine being one of those early settlers, boarding a c
rowded ship, hoping that you and the ship
would survive the journey to the New World and knowing that you wo
uld never see your
homeland again. All that you could bring, maybe, was a small s
uitcase of clothes and items that
would help you survive and build a life, and yet somewhere in tha
t suitcase or in a pocket you
placed a single daffodil bulb. Maybe you brought that daffodil
bulb because you loved its bright
yellow greeting in the spring. Maybe you brought that daffodil
bulb because you and your
grandmother or grandfather, whom you would never see again,
would plant daffodils in the old
country. Maybe you brought that daffodil bulb because it was the one item from your homeland,
small enough and light enough to carry with you and when pla
nted it was the singular piece of
your homeland that would be a forever reminder of the fa
mily, friends and life you left behind.
Each fall as I nestle my newly acquired bulbs into the e
arth, I think about how their ancestors
came to this country, and each spring as I positively deli
ght in the opulence of their spring
blooms, I think I know why those simple, destitute individual
s chose to stuff a pocket with a
little flower bulb. I ask you to remember how these bulbs or
iginally made it to this country and
the love, memories and hope they represented for the coura
geous, but weary travelers that
escorted them here.
Celebrate your uniquely American horticultural heritage
Harvest Your History
Seed Your Future
on orders $50 and above
Follow us on Instagram