By Brenda Powell
Call it an obsession, my love for filling every nook and cranny of my landscape with plants. I especially like to see something flowering throughout the year.
If a plant dies back completely and doesn’t reappear until May, I plant something else in with it that pops up and blooms in February, March or April. Bulbs are one of my favorite things to use to create this layering effect. Crocus, daffodils, tulips and more are perfect to add that early color. Most of these bulbs attract bees, making them an even better choice. In addition to the showy hybrids, such as Pink Impression tulips, there are also species and heirloom bulbs. These hardworking beauties are often overlooked in favor of their showier cousins. That’s unfortunate because these types return faithfully each year and many naturalize (aka multiply and spread). Most of them like a well-drained soil and fertilizer once a year. Sun to part sun is best, although a few like the shade. Please let the foliage die back before cutting it off. That way it feeds the bulb for next year’s flowers.
These are my favorites. Assume they like sun unless otherwise noted.
Species or Snow Crocus: They bloom 2 weeks earlier than giant crocus, although the flowers are smaller, and naturalize. Try Orange Monarch, Prins Claus (bicolor purple and white), Cream Beauty, or Tricolor. (DR, BA)
Snowdrops (Galanthus): They remind me of my childhood. We had a huge patch in my great-grandmother’s rock garden. I still love to gather tiny bouquets of the sweet white and green flowers that appear so early. The double form first appeared in trade in 1731. (DR, BA)
Grecian Windflower (Anemone bland): Appearing in 1854, this one spreads politely and has blue, pink or white flowers. Although the blue is most popular, my favorite is white. (DR, BA, RR)
Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum): This has the worst common name! It’s a spring bloomer in our area, and the flowers don’t look like snowflakes to me. Regardless, it is a charming, white, bell-shaped flower that grows in part shade and moist areas. The species dates back to 1594, but my fave is Gravety Giant. This is a taller, more robust variety introduced in the 1920s. (DR, RR)
Quamash or Indian Hyacinth (Camassia esculenta): This is an Oregon native. It grows well in full to partial sun. Blue flower spikes. It naturalizes well in moist soils. I enjoy watching for it each spring along Riverside drive. (DR, BA, RR)
Flowering Onions (Allium sp) are tough and beautiful additions to any landscape. They make great companions to roses and daylilies. They need full sun, well-drained soil and a neutral pH. Their unique globes of star-shaped flowers are mostly in the purple tones and white. My favorites are: Star of Persia (A. Christophii), A, aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, and the Tumbleweed Onion (A. Schubertii). (DR, BA, RR)
In the daffodil/Narcissus category, I can’t pass up Pheasant’s Eye aka Poet’s Narcissi. This late flowerer is fragrant! Hailing back to 1850, it has a large white perianth and a dainty small cup that is yellow with a red edge and green eye. A good naturalizer.
Baby Moon is a late-flowering, fragrant Jonquil type Narcissi. Its miniature flowers are canary-yellow and 3-5 per stem. Daffodils are normally deer resistant.
Finally there are the tulips. While the showier types rarely return more than one extra year, the species are perennial and often spread nicely. The species types tend to be shorter.
The woodland tulip (Tulipa sylvestris): This unique, yellow flowered species is fragrant and looks more like a daffodil. Its flowers appear windblown and dancing. It spreads prolifically. The bees love it.
Tulipa saxitalis: This one dates back to 1825. It’s pretty pink flowers with a yellow star at the flower base open flat in the sun.
Others to try: T. bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, T. Clusiana ‘Lady Jane’, and T. humilis ‘Persian Pearl’.
Brenda Powell is a fourth generation owner of Garland Nursery in Corvallis.
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