Designing bulbs into the landscape garden
Designing bulbs into the landscape garden can have a major impact on the overall effect. Bulbs and their cousins rhizomes and corms are often overlooked if you have your landscape planted for you. Since most contractors and some designers want you wowed as soon as a new garden is installed, open areas with dormant bulbs are not likely to rate highly on the immediate gratification scale. But the truth is that every landscape can benefit from including these big bloomers in a landscape design. If you don’t, you will be losing out on some of the most showy flowers you can have in your garden.
Designing and planting bulbs is really easy. Bulbs are one of the more fun items to plant in a garden. They are small and can be popped between other plants or given whole areas to cover with massive color when in bloom. Okay, they usually have a relatively short blooming period, but shouldn’t be ignored since they are so showy when they are in bloom. Then they politely die away leaving room for all the other up-and-coming perennials.
Design your bulbs for the area where they will be planted. There are bulbs for shade: Anemone, Cyclamen and Spanish Bluebell. And bulbs for sun: Crocosmia, Sparaxis and Watsonia. Some bulbs will thrive in hungry soil and sun such as Brodiaea and Dichelostemma (the ‘Blue Dick’) without any amendments. Others accept the heavy moisture of a bog or a damp pond area: Camassia and Water Iris (rhizomes). You can find bulbs that are very adaptable and are likely to spend years forming ever-enlarging colonies: Daffodils, Grape hyacinth, and Gladiolus. And there are bulbs specially grown for cutting flowers or perfume: Oriental Lily, Freesia and Liatris. Some bulbs are even resistant to rodents: Daffodil and Allium. In short, there are bulbs for just about every location and every use you can design into your landscape garden.
There is a wide versatility to designing with bulbs and their relatives: corms (flatter bulbs), rhizomes (like swollen roots with tougher skins). You can tuck bulbs between other other plants to bloom early while the surrounding plants are still growing into their adult blooming size. You can mass plant bulbs in groups for a wash of blooming color. Or you can use them in a flower-cutting garden to snip off into interior flower arrangements throughout their blooming seasons. In the warmer parts of Los Angeles or other warm winter areas it is necessary to chill most varieties of the Dutch Crocus, Hyacinth and Tulip in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks before planting if you want them to bloom well. However, if you live where winters can get frosty, you don’t have to worry about using extra efforts like this to give them a good dormant rest period. If you are not sure of your area, you will always be safe to refrigerate (not freeze) the bulbs.
Look out for gophers and moles. If you’ve planted bulbs and you live in territory where these critters abound, you may be feeding these pests without knowing it. If your bulbs never seem to grow, try planting them surrounded by wire mesh in the form of a basket to protect them from these voracious little rodents. This is a safe but effective way to control damage. The easiest way to create a basket is by shaping half-inch chicken wire or hardware cloth, setting it into a pre-dug hole, placing your bulbs inside and refilling with soil. Make sure the edges of the wire are high enough to reach the soil surface so the gophers or moles would have to come out of the ground (something they are highly resistant to do) in order to get at the bulbs.
When designing bulbs into the landscape garden, make sure when your bulbs are finished flowering that you do not cut off the foliage even though it looks unsightly. While the foliage is dying back, the energy is being funneled into a new bulb (or bulbs) for next year since this year’s bulb will be exhausted. By chopping off the foliage you will be keeping a new bulb from forming. Then there will be nothing left to grow for next year. Design bulbs into your garden by interplanting them among other perennial plants so you can tuck the fading foliage away to hide behind surrounding greenery and flowers. This makes for a happy gardener with a neat garden and a happy plant with lots of time to store up energy for next year’s show.
Bulbs offer some of the showiest blooms you can have in your garden. So don’t miss out designing bulbs, rhizomes or corms into your landscape garden.
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