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Marin IJ Articles

Plan now for spring magic in the garden

  • Jane Scurich
  • August is a great time to hang out in your hammock, leaf through bulb catalogues or search websites for tiny bulbs that will burst forth with colorful spring and summer flowers.

    Floral bonanzas depend on ordering early and planting in November and December. Our local garden centers offer numerous bulbs – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and sometimes others - but they are limited by space and the world of bulbs is vast and amazing!

    I’ve been ordering some lessor known bulbs for a few years now and have been well rewarded.

    The beauty of bulbs – as well as corms, rhizomes and tubers - is once planted, they are basically carefree.  Leaves and stems are waiting patiently inside their little brown packages until a bit of rain and winter chill signals their inner calendar that it’s show time. Most all are deer and rodent resistant, except for tulips, which gophers savor. Plants that are super attractive to pollinators include allium, anemone, camassia, cheonodoxa, ixia and muscari.

    While I am tempted to order most every bulb I see, here are a few I have successfully grown in my Mill Valley garden:

    Anemones come in shades of white, blue, purple and red and make excellent cut flowers. Their stem continues to grow after being cut, a trait they share with tulips.

    I have been growing ixia for years. They can be found in shades of white, cream, yellow and eye-popping magenta. Their tall, thin stalks often wave in the breeze, giving them the nickname “wand flowers”.

    For spectacular drama, search for Dracunculus vulgaris “Dragon Flower”. Just don’t plant it close to your door as its bloom has a slightly unpleasant fragrance for a few days! The tall reddish-black spike is quite unique. Large fingered leaves sprout from the leopard-spotted stem and spread out like a fan.

    Watsonias hail from the Cape region of South Africa with rainfall similar to the Bay Area. Five to six-foot stalks emerge from long spikey leaves, boasting trumpet-shaped flowers in white and shades of pink. Drought tolerant, pest resistant, dramatic flowers are perfect for fence lines or back of the perennial border. 

    Camassia is a North American native that was sometimes used by Native Americans as a food crop. Two-foot tall spikes of white, soft pink or shades of blue are excellent pollinators and naturalize easily in almost any soil.

    Triteleia are small bulbs that are native to America and send up strong, one-foot stems with white or blue star-shaped blooms. They prefer full sun or part shade and bloom in late spring or early summer.

    Scillas are petite starry flowers and one of the most shade tolerant. Look for them in blue, white, pink and violet.

    Erythronium, also known as dog-toothed violet or trout lily, is a woodland plant that requires moisture retentive, fertile soil. Attractive foliage supports lily-like flowers in white, yellow or pink.

    In general, bulbs want good drainage, loose fertile soil, and full to part sun. Most bulbs should be planted three times their width deep—follow the directions on the material or package from the bulb source. Small bulbs like anemones should be planted on their side and only 1 – 2 inches deep. Adding some compost and bulb fertilizer to the planting hole will provide extra nutrition.

    For next year’s blooms, it’s vital that the leaves remain in place until they have withered and turned yellow. This may take six to eight weeks, depending on the weather. Allow the dead leaves to decompose in place or remove the foliage when it is yellowed, totally limp, and pulls away with no resistance.

    Searching for these bulbs will take some time and no seller that I located carried all of the varieties mentioned here. Use your search engine to locate the bulb you would like to view, then search that seller’s site for others that might be interesting. Explore and try something new!