Saturday, October 27, 2012

...And then a bulb went off

On the eve of Frankenstorm, a major hurricane expected to combine with two other weather systems to administer a major slap to my corner of the world, I did what any other gardener would do:  I planted bulbs.

After all, what's better after a planting than a good, soaking rain?  And I'm keeping my fingers crossed that at the end of the day, Frankenstorm won't amount to much more than that.

The truth is, storm or not, now, October, is the time to get some bulbs into the new garden Joe and I created last fall.  If it were going to get done, this would be the time.

Last fall, we created this garden by covering a covered a weedy patch of "lawn" with newspapers and mulch.  Then we waited.

 In the spring, I filled it with plants I knew would grow well there because they already grew well in the existing garden of which this new garden was an extension:  heucheras, persicarias, Japanese painted ferns, brunneras.  A silver and maroon color scheme.  Eventually, we had a garden that lived up to the promise I'd envisioned for it.

Silver and Maroon:  Persicaria Red Dragon and Heuchera Mars

The new garden has done so well, and occupies such a prominent position in our yard, it made sense to add bulbs to extend its display into the spring.

First, though, I'd have to cut back the butterfly bush which I'd allowed to overtake its eastern end.  I should have cut it back in the early spring, but at the time, I was putting a lot of energy into creating a solo art quilt show, and cutting back the butterfly bush wasn't a priority.  As a result, it grew to look like this, and there was no way I could plant bulbs in this bed with this behemoth looming over it:

 So I cut back the butterfly bush to clear the way for bulbs.

 My taste in bulbs runs to the small bulbs, like those for crocus, snowdrops, and grape hyacinths.  There are two reasons for this preference.  One, the small bulbs tend to naturalize, spreading their springy selves into larger and larger areas as time passes.  And two, when their foliage fades, the yellowing leaves of the smaller bulbs aren't as much of an aesthetic nuisance as the wilting foliage of larger plants like daffodils.

I took myself to a local nursery to which I'd been given a gift certificate by my kind and generous neighbors after my sister Linda died in September 2011 at age 72 of Alzheimer's disease.  Linda would like knowing that I'm planting these bulbs.

Here's what I chose:
50 Chionodoxa Blue Giant (Glory-of-the-Snow)
Plant 5" deep and 12 per square foot

50 Chionodoxa Pink Giant (Glory-of-the-Snow)
Plant 5" deep and 16 per square foot 
64 Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
Plant 5" deep and 16 per square foot

15 Galanthus Woronowii (Snowdrops)
Plant 5" deep and 12 per square foot

25 Puschkinia (Lebanon Squills)
Plant 5" deep and 16 per square foot 

Some bulbs have to be handled specially to prevent squirrels from digging them up and eating them.  Crocus are high on the list of squirrel favorites.  But I didn't have any crocus.  I did have grape hyacinths, which squirrels are known to dislike.  So no need to squirrel-proof those.  But what about the snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow, and Lebanon squills?  I didn't want to take any chances of destruction by squirrels, so I soaked them in a foul-smelling liquid called Repels All and laid them out to dry overnight.
The next day, I dug five holes at symmetrical locations in the new garden.  The labels on the puschkinia, chionodoxa, and galanthus all said they needed to be buried 5 inches deep and either 12 or 16 bulbs per square foot.  I tried to make my holes about a square foot, and they were about that, and  about five inches deep.  Pretty soon it became clear that, based on my number of bulbs, the five holes were deep enough but maybe not big enough. 

Tough, I decided.  This was hard work.  The soil here is heavy, hard-packed clay. 

That clay is such an inhospitable base for any growing thing that it needs the amendment of organic matter to make it lighter and more friable.  I have a compost bin to give me a supply of organic matter, so I dug a basket of compost to put in all the holes.

Each hole received its share of compost and equal numbers of chionodoxa, galanthus, and puschkinia.  Some gardeners suggest adding other nutrients, such as bone meal, to the holes.  Others say that the smell of bone meal is an invitation to squirrels.  I decided to go by the KISS rule and forget about the bone meal.

So these bulbs are going to have to fight it out for space.  A little.  Life is tough in the plant kingdom.  But that meant that I had to find another place for the grape hyacinths (muscari), which create lavender blooms and a sweet smell that defines spring.

For them, I decided on a semi-circle around the birdbath and set to work digging it out.

There were 64 grape hyacinth bulbs, and once I'd layered the C-shaped trough with a dose of compost, I laid those bulbs evenly on their bed of organic matter.  The package said to plant 16 bulbs per square foot.  That means I needed about four square feet.  I didn't measure, I just eyeballed, but looks like I got it close to right.

Another squirrel-deterrent was to mulch the area over so that the rodents wouldn't know the earth had been disturbed.  I got four bags of this stuff:

I'm not crazy about the black--I go for the natural earth color--but this late in the season, Home Depot doesn't have a lot of choices in mulch.  The guys there said they were trying to sell mulch to make way for Christmas trees.

Here's the culmination of all that digging and mulching.  I left poles in the ground to remind me of the location of these bulbs. Don't I want to be surprised?  No, I want to know where to direct my obsessive rays of hope in the spring.

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