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Time for tulips.

Plan a spring spectacular for your garden this fall. To make it happen you must get spring-flowering bulbs into the ground now. Not only will the effort make your garden a more exciting place next April and May, it also will make the bedding down of your garden for the winter seem a less sorrowful task. We've all discovered that a little anticipation is a strong antidote for the blues. So indulge yourself. Go shopping for tulips, daffodils, crocuses, squills, and hyacinths now. Plant each kind of bulb to the depth your supplier advises and get them into the ground before the hard frosts come. September into October is the ideal time.

Spring-flowering bulbs are all so easy to grow. Each bulb is a complete plant package. It carries its own food and, to a degree, its own moisture. The little bulbs--crocus, scilia, grape hyacinth, and snowdrops--bloom before winter is over. They race the forsythia for front stage. When you plant them, put out quantities of 50 or more for a good show. If you have a garden that maintains good summer moisture, you might try the more fragile twiglike bulbs of winter aconite (Eranthis). Soak them in water for a day before planting. They produce a golden carpet of bloom very early; for this reason they are sometimes called New Year's Gift.

Enjoy such pleasureful combinations as daffodils between the plants in a strawberry bed or grape hyacinths put down in the gaps in a vinca bed. As the spring flowers fade and their blades ripen and brown in early summer, their ragged foliage is disguised by the burgeoning companion plants.

"Tulipmania"

Daffodils bloom after the crocus and before most of the tulips. They range in size from the tiny perfectly formed half-inch trumpet of the Minimus or golden Hoop Petticoat, through the whole range of short cup and mid-sized varieties, to the giant King Alfred and the large-trumpeted Mount Hood. "Daffs" are best scattered downhill by the bucketful and planted where they fall. In northern gardens, where killing frost comes late, you should plant the bulbs deep. They'll bloom a little later and multiply more slowly. If you plant them at the recommended depth, they'll race the snows for your attention. Also they'll multiply more rapidly. This can give you an extra replanting chore every four or five years, but if you enjoy both quality and quantity, the task should be a pleasure rather than a chore.

Finally, introduce yourself to the wonderful world of tulips. You'll be exposing yourself to the exciting affliction long known as "tulipmania." It struck first in Europe in the late 16th century when the bulbs were first imported from Turkey. Tulipa comes from a Turkish word for turban, an allusion to the shape of the flower. After the first "epidemic" Dutch hybridizers sent their creations back to the Turks for scrutiny and another frenzy took place. In our century the fascination continues. We have a tremendously wide choice, from as many as 40 different species. Look for and grow the ground-hugging Tulipa tarda, and the charming water-lily type Kaufmanniana in apricot-orange, yellow and flame, or brilliant scarlet. Seek out the pure and strong-colored Darwins. Giants among them are Gudoshnik and Golden Freckles.

They're beautiful from early bud to final unfurled flower. Try the ragged and quaintly shaped parrot tulips in stunning tropical colors, and the newer bouquet tulips with three to six flowers to a single stem. There are double varieties, often referred to as peony types. Viridiflora hybrids explore the world of greenish strains, and the lily-flowered varieties have pointed and strongly reflexed petals in picotee combinations as well as pure colors. The Mendels and the Triumphs bridge the gap between early and late bloomers. Of recent invention are the fringed tulips with crystal-cut edges in pastel orchid hues.

The small species tulips flourish year after year if they are fertilized annually just before they bud. The rarer and larger hybrids are not quite as durable. Their first-year bloomings are unparalleled, but second- and third-year showings are sometimes less impressive in size and regularity.

The Proper Soil

To have a durable bulb garden year after year you need a moderately rich, well-drained soil--a little on the alkaline side. A good rule of thumb on planting depths, failing more precise instructions from the supplier, is one and one-half times the height of the bulb itself. Do not add animal manures to the planting hole. Instead top-dress the ground in spring with a pelleted fertilizer or liquid manure. After blooming, allow the leaf blades to ripen and wither in place. Do not cut them down prematurely or you'll rob the bulb of food essential to its following year's growth.

In producing a spring spectacular, the important theory is to think big. Invest not only in numerous bulbs but also in spring-flowering shrubs and trees. Using container-grown stock, you can plant double-flowering pink or white almond, golden forsythia, numerous shades of lilacs, a variety of viburnum, cotoneaster, and spirea now, to bloom, perhaps modestly, next spring with your bulbs. Try flowering crab apples, peach, apple, and even a pretty redbud tree.

If your budget will allow, plant your spring garden with the same lavishness that plantsmen use when producing a display booth at a spring flower show. If shrubs and trees seem too costly for this year's budget, try for secondary color enrichment with rocks, gnarled tree branches, driftwood, polished stones or seashells--whatever is available at little or no cost in your area. Such items can introduce new colors and textures to enhance a still-sparse display. The rocks and larger boulders have other values. They provide protection for the bulbs against the garden hoe. They equalize the temperature in their immediate vicinity, attracting the midday heat and holding it into the night. In drought conditions they sustain moisture beneath to nourish bulb roots nearby.

Spring gardens have another attractive advantage. The early blooms allow the peripatetic summer traveler a smashing garden display of color (the ultimate reward for his planting labors) before he turns his eyes to other sights and hot weather adventures.

A little effort now, before the first frost, can pay off with handsome and enviable dividends next spring. Even before you are psychologically prepared to dash out into the blustering end-of-winter temperatures, your tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and snowdrops will be bravely blossoming, according to their own internal biological clocks. In the meantime, you can tolerate each dreary winter day easily, knowing that a spectacular flower show is already in the works for your enjoyment.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Burgess, Lorraine
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:1094
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