The Bulb Garden
Every lover of flowers should have a garden of bulbs, for three reasons:
First, they bloom so early in the season that one can have flowers at
least six weeks longer than it is possible to have them if only
perennial and annual
plants are depended on. Some bulbs come into bloom
as soon as the snow is gone, at the north, to be followed by those of
later habit, and a constant succession of bloom can be secured by a
judicious selection of varieties, thus completely tiding over the
usually flowerless period between the going of winter and the coming of
the earlier spring flowers. Second, they require but little care, much
less than the ordinary plant. Give them a good soil to grow in, and keep
weeds and grass from encroaching on them, and they will ask no other
attention from you, except when, because of a multiplication of bulbs,
they need to be separated and reset, which will be about every third
year. The work required in doing this is no more than that involved in
spading up a bed for annual flowers. Third, they are so hardy, even at
the extreme north, that one can be sure of bloom from them if they are
given a good covering in fall, which is a very easy matter to do.
For richness and variety of color this class of plants stands
unrivalled. The bulb garden is more brilliant than the garden of annuals
which succeeds it.
September is the proper month in which to make the bulb garden.
As a general thing, persons fail to plant their bulbs until October and
often November, thinking the time of planting makes very little
difference so long as they are put into the ground before winter sets
in. Here is where a serious mistake is made. Early planting should
always be the rule,--for this reason: Bulbs make their annual growth
immediately after flowering, and ripen off by midsummer. After this,
they remain dormant until fall, when new root-growth takes place, and
the plant gets ready for the work that will be demanded of it as soon as
spring opens. It is made during the months of October and November, if
cold weather does not set in earlier, and should be fully completed
before the ground freezes. If incomplete--as is always the case when
late planting is done--the plants are obliged to do--or attempt to
do--double duty in spring. That is, the completion of the work left
undone in fall and the production of flowers must go on at the same
time, and this is asking too much of the plant. It cannot produce fine,
perfect flowers with a poorly-developed root-system to supply the
strength and nutriment needed for such a task, therefore the plants are
not in a condition to do themselves justice. Often late-planted bulbs
fail to produce any flowers, and, in most instances, the few flowers
they do give are small and inferior in all respects.
With early-planted bulbs it is quite different, because they had all the
late fall-season to complete root-growth in, and when winter closed in
it found them ready for the work of spring.
Therefore, do not neglect the making of your bulb garden until winter is
at hand under the impression that if the bulbs are planted any time
before snow comes, all is well. This is the worst mistake you could
The catalogues of the bulb-dealers will be sent out about the first of
September. Send in your order for the kinds you decide on planting at
once, and as soon as your order has gone, set about preparing the place
in which you propose to plant them. Have everything in readiness for
them when they arrive, and put them into the ground as soon after they
are received as possible.
The soil in which bulbs should be planted cannot be too carefully
prepared, as much of one's success with these plants depends upon this
most important item. It must be rich, and it must be fine and mellow.
The best soil in which to set bulbs is a sandy loam.
The best fertilizer is old, thoroughly rotted cow-manure. On no account
should fresh manure be used. Make use, if possible, of that which is
black from decomposition, and will crumble readily under the application
of the hoe, or iron rake. One-third in bulk of this material is not too
much. Bulbs are great eaters, and unless they are well fed you cannot
expect large crops of fine flowers from them. And they must be well
supplied with nutritious food each year, because the crop of next season
depends largely upon the nutriment stored up this season.
If barnyard manure is not obtainable, substitute bonemeal. Use the fine
meal, in the proportion of a pound to each yard square of surface. More,
if the soil happens to be a poor one. If the soil is heavy with clay,
add sand enough to lighten it, if possible.
The ideal location for bulbs is one that is naturally well drained, and
has a slope to the south.
Unless drainage is good success cannot be expected, as nothing injures a
bulb more than water about its roots. Therefore, if you do not have a
place suitable for them so far as natural drainage is concerned, see to
it that artificial drainage supplies what is lacking. Spade up the bed
to the depth of a foot and a half. That is--throw the soil out of it to
that depth,--and put into the bottom of the excavation at least four
inches of material that will not decay readily, like broken brick,
pottery, clinkers from the coal-stove, coarse gravel--anything that will
be permanent and allow water to run off through the cracks and crevices
in it, thus securing a system of drainage that will answer all purposes
perfectly. It is of the utmost importance that this should be done on
all heavy soils. Unless the water from melting snows and early spring
rains drains away from the bulbs readily you need not expect flowers
After having arranged for drainage, work over the soil thrown out of the
bed until it is as fine and mellow as it can possibly be made. Mix
whatever fertilizer you make use of with it, when you do this, that the
two may be thoroughly incorporated. Then return it to the bed. There
will be more than enough to fill the bed, because some space is given up
to drainage material, but this will be an advantage because it will
enable you to so round up the surface that water will run off before it
has time to soak into the soil to much depth.
I do not think it advisable to say much about plans for bulb-beds,
because comparatively few persons seem inclined to follow instructions
along this line. The less formal a bed of this kind is the better
satisfaction it will give, as a general thing. It is the flower that is
in the bed that should be depended on to give pleasure rather than the
shape of the bed containing it.
I would advise locating bulb-beds near the house where they can be
easily seen from the living-room windows. These beds can be utilized
later on for annuals, which can be sown or planted above the bulbs
without interfering with them in any respect.
I would never advise mixing bulbs. By that, I mean, planting Tulips,
Hyacinths, Daffodils, and other kinds in the same bed. They will not
harmonize in color or habit. Each kind will be found vastly more
pleasing when kept by itself.
I would also advise keeping each color by itself, unless you are sure
that harmony will result from a mixture or combination of colors. Pink
and white, blue and white, and red and white Hyacinths look well when
planted together, but a jumble of pinks, blues, and reds is never as
pleasing as the same colors would be separately, or where each color is
relieved by white.
The same rule applies to Tulips, with equal force.
We often see pleasing effects that have been secured by planting reds
and blues in rows, alternating with rows of white. This method keeps the
quarrelsome colors apart, and affords sufficient contrast to heighten
the general effect. Still, there is a formality about it which is not
entirely satisfactory to the person who believes that the flower is of
first importance, and the shape of the bed, or the arrangement of the
flowers in the bed, is a matter of secondary consideration.
Bulbs should be put into the ground as soon as possible after being
taken from the package in which they are sent out by the florist. If
exposed to the light and air for any length of time they part rapidly
with the moisture contained in their scales, and that means a loss of
vitality. If it is not convenient to plant them at once, leave them in
the package, or put them in some cool, dark place until you are ready to
As a rule Hyacinths, Tulips, and Narcissus should be planted about five
inches deep, and about six inches apart.
The smaller bulbs should be put from three to four inches below the
surface and about the same distance apart.
In planting, make a hole with a blunt stick of the depth desired, and
drop the bulb into it. Then cover, and press the soil down firmly.
Just before the ground is likely to freeze, cover the bed with a coarse
litter from the barnyard, if obtainable, to a depth of eight or ten
inches. If this litter is not to be had, hay or straw will answer very
well, if packed down somewhat. Leaves make an excellent covering if one
can get enough of them. If they are used, four inches in depth of them
will be sufficient. Put evergreen boughs or wire netting over them to
prevent their being blown away.
I frequently receive letters from inexperienced bulb-growers, in which
the writers express considerable scepticism about the value of such a
covering as I have advised above, because, they say, it is not deep
enough to keep out the frost, therefore it might as well be dispensed
with. Keeping out the frost is not what is aimed at. We expect the soil
about the bulbs to freeze. But such a covering as has been advised will
prevent the sun from thawing out the frost after it gets into the soil,
and this is exactly what we desire. For if the frost can be kept in,
after it has taken possession, there will not be that frequent
alternation between freezing and thawing which does the harm to the
plant. For it is not freezing, understand, that is responsible for the
mischief, but the _alternation of conditions_. These cause a rupture of
plant-cells, and that is what does the harm. Keep a comparatively tender
plant frozen all winter and allow the frost to be drawn out of it
gradually in spring, and it will survive a season of unusual cold. The
same plant will be sure to die in a mild season if left exposed to the
action of the elements, because of frequent and rapid changes between
heat and cold.
Whatever covering is given should be left on the beds as long as
possible in spring, because of the severely cold weather we frequently
have at the north after we think all danger is over. However, as soon as
the plants begin to make much growth, this covering will have to be
removed. If a cold night comes along after this has been done spread
blankets or carpeting over the beds. Keep them from resting on the
tender growth of the plants by driving pegs into the soil a short
distance apart, all over the bed. The young plants may not be killed by
quite a severe freeze, but they will be injured by it, and injury of any
kind should be guarded against at this season, if you want fine flowers.
Holland Hyacinths should receive first consideration, because they are
less likely to disappoint than any other hardy bulb. There are single
and double kinds, both desirable. Personally I prefer the single sorts,
as they are less prim and formal than the double varieties, whose
flowers are so thickly set along the stalk that individuality of bloom
is almost wholly lost sight of. They are, in this respect, like the
double Geraniums we use in summer bedding, whose trusses of bloom
resemble a ball of color more than anything else, at a little distance,
the suggestion of individual bloom being so slight that it seldom
receives consideration. However, they do good service where
color-effects are considered of more importance than anything else.
Single Hyacinths have their flowers more loosely arranged along the
stalk, and are therefore more graceful than the double varieties, and
their colors are quite as fine. These range from pure white through
pale pink and rose, red, scarlet, crimson, blue and charming yellows to
Roman Hyacinths are too tender for outdoor culture at the north.
There are several quite distinct varieties of the Tulip. There is an
early sort, a medium one, a late one, and the Parrot, which is prized
more for its striking combinations of brilliant colors than for its
beauty of form or habit. We have single and double varieties in all the
classes, all coming in a wide range of both rich and delicate colors.
Scarlets, crimsons, and yellows predominate, but the pure whites, the
pale rose-colors, and the rich purples are general favorites. Some of
the variegated varieties are exceedingly brilliant in their striking
The Narcissus is one of the loveliest flowers we have. It deserves a
place very near, if not quite at, the head of the list of our best
spring-blooming plants. Nothing can be richer in color than the large
double sorts, like _Horsfieldii_, and _Empress_, with their petals of
burnished gold. There are many other varieties equally as fine, but with
a little difference in the way of color--just enough to make one want to
have all of them. The good old-fashioned Daffodil is an honored member
of the family that should be found in every garden. When you see the
Dandelion's gleam of gold in the grass by the wayside you get a good
idea of the brilliant display a fine collection of Narcissus is capable
of making, for in richness of color these two flowers are almost
Among the smaller bulbs that deserve special mention are the Crocus, the
Snow Drop, the Scilla, and the Musk or Grape Hyacinth. These should be
planted in groups, to be most effective, and set close together. They
must be used in large quantities to produce much of a show. They are
very cheap, and a good-sized collection can be had for a small amount of
Those who have a liking for special colors will do well to make their
selections from the named varieties listed in the catalogues. You can
depend on getting just the color you want, if you order in this way. But
in no other way. Mixed collection will give you some of all colors, but
there is no way of telling "which is which" until they come into bloom.
But in mixed collections you will get just as fine bulbs and just as
fine colors as you will if you select from the list of named varieties.
Only--you won't know what you are getting. Named sorts will cost
considerable more than the mixtures.
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