Fall planting is in full swing. As you nestle tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses into the soil, don’t neglect to also plant some minor bulbs – “minor” only because they aren’t well known, not because they lack quality.
Many of these bulbs are so minor as to even lack common names. But botanical names are not all that cumbersome. After all “crocus,” “hyacinth” and “narcissus” are botanical names. Some names of minor bulbs are even fun to say: Puschkinia, for example, rolls smoothly off the tongue once you sound it out and, for me, conjures up an image of a friendly, stuffed clown doll.
BLUE AND BLUISH
Puschkinia in very early spring sends up strappy leaves and 6-inch flower stalks, atop which sit clusters of white flowers striped with shadings of grayish blue. It’s the perfect bulb to tuck into a partially shaded rock garden or under trees and shrubs.
Plant puschkinia this year and the planting will become increasingly beautiful over the years as the bulb naturalizes, increasing its numbers by self-seeding.
Another early bloomer that should become better known is chionodoxa. Again, the first step is to slowly sound out the name. Then plant it and wait a few months for the rich blue flowers, small but in great numbers, as many as a dozen per stem.
Two other dainty blue flowers for early and mid-spring are, respectively, squill and muscari. (See? Not all minor bulbs have botanical or unfamiliar names.)
Muscari, especially, naturalizes readily to the extent that patches of lawn given over to it look in mid-spring like a piece of blue sky has dropped on the ground.
ROUNDING OUT THE SPECTRUM
The minor bulb palette is not restricted to blues and whites: Allium sphaerocephalon, sometimes known as round-headed leek, is a beauty displaying “Tootsie roll pops” of reddish purple in late spring. You might recognize from the botanical name that this bulb is in the onion family and, except for its color, it does indeed resemble chives in bloom. Like chives, it likes lots of sun.
Let’s return to blues and whites, this time to some bulbs that are somewhat familiar but which you might forget: snowdrops, dwarf irises and Spanish bluebells.
As implied by their name, the nodding, white flowers of snowdrops do appear very early, providing flowers in winter — a very welcome sight.
Dwarf irises, appearing a bit later, are dainty cousins of Siberian irises, growing only a few inches tall and with intensely blue flowers — a particularly charming sight when their dark blue petals catch hold of a few flakes of newly fallen snow.
Spanish bluebells are giants among these minor bulbs, growing over a foot high. The bell-like flowers come in a range of colors, including shades of blue, but also pink and white.
One last minor bulb, windflower (Anemone blanda), has been a “major” bulb in my garden for a couple of decades and is becoming more “major” all the time as it keeps spreading. This plant has everything: frilly foliage that looks good right up until it melts back into the ground, and blossoms in a range of pastel colors. The most endearing quality is the form of the flower, which is like a daisy even though the two plants are unrelated. A daisy look-alike is welcome in early spring both for itself and for foreshadowing the summery true daisies that lie ahead.