Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs

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Planting up pots with spring blooming bulbs has become an autumn ritual for me.   I consider how the bloom will unfold around the perennials, ferns and woodies included in the design.   I plant with a sense of anticipation and caution.  I am excited by the potential while also mindful of the many pitfalls that can damage bulbs between autumn and spring.

I’ve lost bulbs in recent years to hungry squirrels, bacterial infection on some of the bulbs planted, extreme cold and dry soil.

Some variables we can anticipate and plant to avoid. 

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Newly planted on September 25, 2018

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I’ve learned to order and pick my bulbs up as early as possible, before they can get old or contaminated in the the shop.  This year, I learned to spray the bulbs with a repellent, like Repels All, just before I plant them to discourage rodents.  I use the largest pots possible and try to shelter them against the worst weather.

Now, I make a point to water bulb filled pots throughout the winter when the ground isn’t frozen, and to mulch each pot with rocks or moss to minimize damage and bulb loss.

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November 6, 2018 Autumn blooming Colchicum was the first bulb to bloom in this fall planted pot. Cyclamen leaves have already emerged, and moss has begun to establish. 

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This four season pot’s main occupant is a native Oakleaf Hydrangea, which doesn’t look like much at the moment in its dormancy.  The pot is filled with an assortment of bulbs, roots, corms and tubers to unfold gradually over the long months between late autumn and early summer.

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We are currently enjoying Tommies, better known as Crocus Tommasinianus, known to rarely attract rodents.  This Crocus species simply smells differently from most species and cultivars, which can actually attract squirrels and mice because they smell nut-like.  Tommies are some of the earliest Crocus to bloom each spring, multiply well and can thrive in partial shade.

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We also have another snowdrop blooming and the first bloom of our Cyclamen coum, which will open in another day.  I planted a mix of fall blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum for a longer season of delicate blooms.

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It isn’t cheating to begin adding plants in early spring.  Pots are stages, and the players come and go to keep the show lively.  I added the panola last week, to fill a small hole left by a curious squirrel.

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I love bulbs in pots precisely because I’m curious, too.  I want to watch spring unfold in miniature, up close; in a choreographed microcosm of what is writ large around us.

Moss mulch elevates the entire experience for me because it provides that splash of vivid, living green on even the coldest, dullest winter days.  It protects and insulates the bulbs while also protecting whatever is in growth from splashing soil during rains.  And, quite honestly, I’m curious to watch every tiny plant that sprouts from the moss.

Left untended, the grass would grow in little clumps through the moss until unplanned plants (read: weeds) overwhelmed the planting.  But no:  We have little snips to keep everything tidied up.  That is a lesson learned from hard experience, too.

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You never got around to planting bulbs this year?  No worries. 

You can still create a beautiful pot of blooming bulbs now.  I’ve found bulbs in growth at nurseries and the grocery store for the past few weeks.

Grab a pot or basket and fresh potting mix, plan your arrangement, and just take those bulbs already in growth and slip them out of their nursery pot as you tuck them into your arrangement.  Add a pansy or primrose, if it makes you happy.  There is no shortage of moss after all the rain these past few weeks.

All sorts of interesting things have begun to turn up at local nurseries, and your creative ideas will lead you to just the right components for your own spring pot.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”
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Hal Borland

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February 15, 2019

 

 

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Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris

Iris histrioides ‘George’ is blooming today, the first Iris of spring.

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“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in-
-what more could he ask?
A few flowers at his feet
and above him the stars.”
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Victor Hugo

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Galanthus elwesii

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“Nobody sees a flower – really –
it is so small it takes time
– we haven’t time –
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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“If you want love to blossom in your heart,
just sit in the garden,
and watch the flowers grow.”
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Anthony T. Hincks

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“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
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Claude Monet

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Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ with Helleborus

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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All the flowers of all the tomorrows
are in the seeds of today”
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Robin Craig Clark

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“Love speaks in flowers.
Truth requires thorns.”
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Leigh Bardugo

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Mahonia aquifolium

 

 

Blossom XLV: First Snowdrops

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“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life,
the roots of something new
frequently lie in the decaying husks
of something old.”
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Craig D. Lounsbrough

Once the rain finally stopped, the clouds blew out to sea, and the sun shone golden as it dropped towards the west, I finally felt moved to head out of doors to putter a little in the garden.  How could I not?  It was a rare warmish afternoon and the sun was shining.

It was only after planting out some potted Cyclamen, and a few odd things  that had been languishing in a corner of the garage, that I wandered up to the top of the garden to see what there was to see.  There is always something to see, even if it is nothing more than a swelling bud or a few more green leaves shyly poking up through winter’s mud.

And so it was that I braved the squishy paths and found myself wondering at the bit of fresh whiteness at my feet.  Snowdrops!  The first blooming bulbs of the season!

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What a quiet, special moment that creeps up so unexpectedly, to see the first flower of  a new spring while still  in the midst of winter.   It is like a sigil  for what is yet to come.

The old year has passed away, but the remains of those former days remain.  And out of the decaying leaves and soggy ground something pristine and fresh and bright emerges, as if by some old magic.  Snowdrops are simple things, tiny and meek.  They shyly nod just inches above the soil, ephemeral and fragile.  And still they exhibit the sheer life force to survive and carry on irregardless of the forces of winter.

Who would not be inspired and encouraged by such a sight?  Even though we have several weeks of freezing cold and winter storms ahead, spring began to stir in our garden today.  In our garden, and in this gardener’s heart.

Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Perhaps that is where our choice lies –
– in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things,
and how we will greet each new beginning.”
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Elana K. Arnold

Fabulous Friday: Signs of Spring

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Jack, or Jacqueline Frost, visited our garden last night.  The temperature dropped quickly after the sun went down, and there was no wind.

Long, intricate ice crystals formed on every moist surface.

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I went out early enough this morning to discover them.  The sun’s first rays were just stroking them, and releasing each ice crystal back into the sky as mist.

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“In the process of  falling to the earth,
seeping into the ground, and then emerging,
water obtains information from various minerals
and becomes wise.”
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Masaru Emoto
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As I wandered around, admiring the rim of frost on grass and leaves, buds and glass, I also noticed many signs of spring.

The ground in our garden may be frozen hard, but determined green shoots still emerge.

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Perennials still push up a few tentative leaves.  Woody buds swell.

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And the desiccated chaff remaining from summer’s growth blankets the ground.  It, too, prepares for spring as it decomposes and enriches the soil for all that will follow.

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Maybe it is in our nature to watch and wait for signs of events still beyond the horizon of our lives.   Perhaps it is a lack of discipline when we shift our focus from ‘what is’ to ‘what will come.’

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Even as we appreciate winter’s gifts of fiery sunsets, quiet snow, long evenings and intricate crystalline artworks shining in the morning sunshine;  spring already stirs in our hearts.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“What is the relationship between love and gratitude?
For an answer to this question, we can use water as a model.
A water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom,
represented by H2O.
If love and gratitude , like oxygen and hydrogen,
were linked together in a ratio of 1 to 2,
gratitude would be twice as large as love.”
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Masaru Emoto, Hidden Messages in Water

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another.

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Daffodils

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Daffodils simply sing happiness as they nod and wave in the early spring breeze.

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Sometimes that breeze is a little more lively, and the nodding and waving make a clear photo next to impossible.  But I still find it satisfying to try and capture their beautiful faces with as much clarity as conditions allow.

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We watch for patches of bright Daffodils as we drive around town.  And we find Daffodils in abundance around Williamsburg.

As much as we enjoy the daffies blooming along the roadsides and in others’ gardens, we agree the very best Daffodil display greets us on our own street.

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Our close neighbors love Daffodils, too, and have thousands blooming in their yards.  A golden sea of daffies welcomes us home.

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Our combined collection grows from year to year.  In autumn, we plant everything from ‘big box store’ mixtures to named hybrids.  Our neighbor lends his bulb planter as we confer about how many we each plan to buy and plant before winter halts our efforts.

I pore over the catalogs in late summer, selecting which new daffies we will plant that year.   Together, my partner and I  plan where to extend the new Daffodil plantings in our garden.

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We see this annual Daffodil planting as an investment in happiness.

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And these are just the opening act!  These early daffies have opened since the second week of February.  Many more will follow…..

Walking through our garden, and admiring the Daffodils together, has made this Friday Fabulous!

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What is more happiness-inducing than to watch the daffies emerge and bloom each spring?   They are a sure herald of better times ahead!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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I am setting an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to write about each Friday. 

Now that the Weekly Photo Challenge has moved to Wednesdays, I am starting  “Fabulous Friday” on Forest Garden. 

If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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Blossom XIX: First Snowdrops

The first Snowdrops of spring.

The first Snowdrops of spring.

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We were delighted, and a bit surprised, to discover these pretty snowdrops blooming on the bank behind our house today.  Sheltered, and facing the afternoon sun, these tiny Galanthus emerged to brighten our day with their pristine flowers.

Our bulbs have been popping up all over the garden during the last fortnight.  But these are the first bulbs to bloom in our yard this year.  The premier act, we expect others soon to follow.  Galanthus nivalis lead the season, closely followed by the Crocus and early Daffodils.  I’m happy to see a little clump forming here where the original bulbs have matured and multiplied.  One of the nicest things about many spring bulbs is that they naturalize over time, making spreading patches of  color to delight my gardener’s heart.

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We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in the mid 60s today, and used it productively.  I made the tour and spread a bag of Milorganite around the perimeter of our garden, watching for signs of spring.  I”m still pruning, cutting back spent perennials, replenishing mulch and noticing buds swelling on many shrubs and trees.

We can’t get overly confident just yet.   We expect wintery weather to return by the end of this week.   Williamsburg often endures winter storms right through March or even early April.

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But with that said, we feel spring in the air.  The Heaths opened their  Bulb Shop up for the season at their Gloucester gardens last week.  I find it satisfying somehow that the first of our spring bulbs has blossomed within a week of their spring opening!  We will make a trip later this month to enjoy their display gardens, see what is new, and perhaps pick up a bag or two of something nice for this summer’s display.

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These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky's bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

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So for my gardening friends snowed under this week, please let these little snowdrops cheer you with their promise of spring to come!  It won’t be long now until your gardens will also burst into the beauties of springtime!

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Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our 'winter roses.'

Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our ‘winter roses.’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIII
Blossom XIV
Blossom XV
Blossom XVI
Blossom XVII
Blossom XVIII
Blossom XX

 

Blossom IX

August 2, 2016 Crepe Myrtle 022

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“It may be important to great thinkers

to examine the world, to explain and despise it.

But I think it is only important to love the world,

not to despise it, not for us to hate each other,

but to be able to regard the world

and ourselves and all beings

with love, admiration and respect.”

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Hermann Hesse

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“. . . gentleness is stronger than severity,

water is stronger than rock,

love is stronger than force.”

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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII

Wednesday Already?

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This haunting photo taken on Monday is my lone offering for Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday this month.

It is a shell my partner spotted lying on the sidewalk in Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens when we visited earlier this week. He had an eye for small treasures like this, while I was totally absorbed in the spring flowers we found.

We’ve been enjoying the many birds who visit our garden, but I haven’t the talent Tina has for attracting and photographing them.  I hope you will click to visit her post and share one of her secrets for photographing birds, which is absolutely clever!  And then,  if you have a moment, please also check out her gentle reminders to provide safe haven for our precious pollinators.

We were thrilled to find these trees already in bloom in Gloucester; an early food source for those hungry bees!  The Heaths maintain many hives at their garden.

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We did spot this wonderful guy beside the water garden, guarding some Crocus,

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and this beautiful Koi enjoying the bright sunshine on his pool.

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But, I was searching for the earliest blossoms from the Heath’s extensive collection of spring bulbs.

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This little winter blooming Iris unguicularis caught my imagination at planting time last fall, and I planted the tiny bulbs in pots.  The one above is growing by the Heath’s water garden in Gloucester.  The one below is the first Iris to bloom in a pot in our garden this year.

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It is still very early to expect to find much in the garden.  Our friend who works in the shop on Mondays reminded us of this.  But I was already headed outside, and knew there would be treasures for those who searched for them.

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We found Hellebores and Crocus, early Daffodils and Hyacinths, Camellias and other flowering shrubs relaxing in the day’s brilliant sun.  A cool breeze off the water kept the garden visit brisk and brief.
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But it proved just what we needed on ‘Leap Day.’  We leapt into spring full of hope and optimism, though it still is very much winter here.
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And now it is Wednesday, already.  A very busy week for us, and no time to spend in our own garden before the cold settled back over us today.
No matter.  ‘To everything there is a season,’ we know.  There is time enough for every purpose under heaven…
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens

in Gloucester, Virginia

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WPC: Afloat

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Always intrigued by water, we lingered beside the waterfall, stream, and pools of the rock garden in Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens yesterday.

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Koi darted and gathered in the depths of the pools, floating among the rocks.

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Shadows cast by surrounding plants floated on the surface of the water.

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We were nearly afloat ourselves, buoyed along by the beauty of these golden spring time gardens. 

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Water remains essential to all life on Earth.

It courses through our veins, just as it gives form and substance to every leaf and stem in our gardens.

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Our gardens grow lush and bright because we are blessed with abundant rain and are surrounded by vibrant rivers here in coastal Virginia.  We still have pure groundwater to drink and to irrigate our gardens.

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Water is a gift to be treasured and protected; a resource which fills our lives, and our gardens, with beauty.

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Afloat

All photos were taken at Brent and Becky Heath’s dsplay gardens at their farm in Gloucester County, Virginia on April 9, 2015.  If you are in driving distance, please come and enjoy the Gloucester Daffodil Festival on April 11 and 12.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Daffodil Paradise 

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