For gardeners, farmers or landscapers, there is never a clear “off-season.” Maybe in the deadest part of winter we seem to take a break — or do we?
Pruning, ordering seeds, bulbs, tubers or berry plants will demand some of our time. There is definitely a philosophical side to gardening, because we dream of the next season, imagine what we want to plant, how to improve some practices at which we have failed, how to add more variety in the flower garden, consider growing a fruit tree and as fantasy has no limits, the space we have available will become way too small for all the new ideas. Dreaming up images of beautiful nature scenery helps us overcome our winter blues.
There is another aspect that triggers our inner self. Even if faith seems lacking in our personality, we discover we nevertheless have faith, because we firmly believe that the plants we set out will grow and the seeds we put in the ground will germinate. Dreams, hope and faith are part of gardening and they awake mindfulness which gives us inner strength.
Right now is the perfect time to realize one dream: planting spring flowering bulbs. Dutch Garden, Netherlands Bulbs, Breck’s, van Bourgondien and Holland Bulb Farm are just a few companies that specialize in bulbs for fall or spring planting. Seed companies offer choices too, as well as local garden centers, but the choices these outfits offer are almost endless, sometimes overwhelming.
Snowdrops are the first harbingers of spring to emerge and when we spot them popping up, spring will be just around the corner. They can be planted at a depth of 4 to 5 inches, with bulbs 4 inches apart. They will multiply by forming more bulbs in subsequent years or by seeds. If we want to thin them out in spring after they finished blooming, we should replant them at the same level as before we lifted them. There will be a visible mark. What was below the ground will be white, the leaves that were above ground will be green. They can be planted in shady areas because they bloom way before any shade tree puts out leaves.
The next bulbs to bloom after the snowdrops are crocuses. There are early and late crocuses that come in a variety of colors, light and dark blue, violet, yellow, white, purple and some are striped. They are very hardy like their blooming predecessors, the snowdrops, easy to grow in a sunny or partly shady location. They like humus rich soil. The planting depth is about 4 inches with the bulbs 4 inches apart. Plant them in groups to create a fuller color display. They naturalize easily.
Daffodils have so many different characteristics that it makes it hard to choose. Maybe we can plant several representatives of this species one year, then add more the following years. Yellow is the predominant color, but they can also be white or greenish with red, yellow or orange centers. Plant them in groups for a more impressive display, 6 inches deep. For the best effect, plant only one variety in the same group. The soil should be cooled off, but still workable when we put them in the ground. Straight or curved lines that will burst out in blooms in spring are both beautiful — maybe curves give them a little bit of an artsy aspect.
Tulips are also an old-time favorite. I used to plant fancy ones as well as wild ones. Tulips are showy; some have pointy flower petals, others smooth, rounded ones. They come in single colors as well as in any imaginable color combination. The soil where we intend to plant them must be loosened to a depth of around 10 inches and the bulbs should be 8 inches underground with the pointed end of the bulb up. They multiply if we don’t dig them up after spring blooming to keep them in storage.
Grape hyacinths are like miniature hyacinths, about 6 inches to 8 inches tall, looking like strings with little beads going up and down the stem. They spread easily, need little care, and can be planted at the same time as the daffodils, 4 inches deep and in groups. I never lift spring blooming bulbs for storage, the task seems enormous and I can’t keep the bulbs at the requested temperature, moisture and light conditions till the next fall. All these bulbs have the same spring care in common: Don’t mow or cut them down before their leaves turn yellow or dry up.
I can easily go along with this requirement, no effort involved, just some messy, unsightly dry strings of leaves for about two weeks. The problems with bulbs are deer or vole resistance. All of our tulips have disappeared and new plantings do well the first year, never to be seen again. I have given up on trying to plant tulips. We have the same problem with crocuses. Voles are the culprits, but they are unable to devour all the little bulbs. They nibble on them, carry them through their tunnels underground and spread them to areas we never planted them. Tulips are a favorite of deer, but the voles are the ones who consider them a delicacy in our flower bed.
Daffodils, grape hyacinth, wild tulips and early crocuses are deer and vole resistant. Since I don’t have any intention of wasting my time fighting gourmet critters, I chose plants that are resistant and prolific. We have thousands of daffodils, mostly planted along fence lines that grace our landscape in spring. Gardening also taught me to choose my battles wisely, or not do any battle at all, but instead concentrate my energy on issues that matter, to make life better.