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When Lilies Take You By Surprise

As a kid, when I saw the naked ladies pop up in the yard, it was always bittersweet.  Their bold presence always made me smile, but I also knew it was almost time to go back to school. The ever-present surprise lilies, also known as spider lilies, naked ladies or naked lilies, were a sad reminder that summer was coming to an end. They are “naked” because the blooms arrive before the foliage and their stems are bare.

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Paperwhites with Heart

This Valentines’ Day give paperwhites with “heart.” Follow these three easy steps to decorate potted paperwhites with a pussy willow stem heart.

Materials

  • Paperwhites planted in a 6-inch container
  • (2) fresh pussy willow branches (available at florists)
  • Wired green floral stick (available at florists or craft stores)
  • Red ribbon
  • Decorative container

Directions

    1. Insert the wide ends of the pussy willow branches into the soil at an angle so they make a V.

Paperwhites for Valentines

  1. Draw together the upper ends and tie with the wired floral stick.
  2. Pull the floral stick all the way down to the pot and push it into the soil. Insert it at an angle to make it secure.
  3. For a pop of color wrap the willow stems in red ribbon.
  4. That’s all there is to it!

Tabletop Spring Garden

Welcome spring into your home with a tabletop garden planted with spring blooms from your local garden center or grocery store.

Materials:
Potted flowering plants
Plastic baggies
Decorative container
Sheet moss

Directions:
Remove each plant from its pot and slip it, soil and all, into a plastic baggie. This is optional. If your decorative container is large enough to accommodate the plants in their pots, simply slip them into the container. Otherwise the plastic baggies make it easier to arrange the plants.

Once the plants are in the container cover the bags or pots with sheet moss to conceal. That’s it!

For the longest life, place your tabletop garden in a spot away from source of heat. Water the soil with a spray mister.

For this arrangement I used pots of forced ‘Tete-a-tete’ narcissus, primroses and variegated ivy. After the blooms fade I’ll plant the ‘Tet-a-tete’ in the garden. This variety is a prolific multiplier.

Tulip Basics

In autumn when most people are visiting pumpkin patches and making Halloween costumes, gardeners are thinking ahead to spring. For gorgeous tulip blooms in April and May the bulbs need to be planted in fall.

Tulip Fast Facts

Tulips are categorized into groups or classifications known as divisions, depending on how the flower looks: single early, double early, triumph, Darwin hybrid, single late, lily flowered, fringed, viridiflora, Rembrandt, parrot, double late, Kaufmaniana, Fosteriana, Griegii, and miscellaneous (species). It’s helpful to know the divisions and the sequence of their bloom to plan for more continuous color. Here is a general guide.

  • Early Flowering – single early, double early, Greigii, Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana, species
  • Mid-season Flowering – Darwin, Triumph, Parrot
  • Late-season Flowering – Single late, double late, viridiflora, lily, fringed, Rembrandt

Most early and mid-season tulip varieties are excellent for forcing. Purchase non-precooled bulbs, plant them in a pot or your favorite container, cover with fine mulch and keep in a cool (around 40 degrees) place such as a shed or garage for 6 – 10 weeks. Then move the pot into a warm room until growth is well underway. The blooms will keep longer if the container is placed in a relatively cool room and out of direct sunlight.

Tulips can grow from 4 inches to 28 inches high depending on their type.

Tulips thrive in climates with long cool springs, dry summers and cold winters. To try to keep them from year to year, plant at the recommended depth, remove faded blooms so they do not produce seed, and allow the leaves to yellow before removing them. In areas where spring is short and summer is hot gardeners usually replace tulips every year.

Plant tulip bulbs in fall at least 30 days before the ground freezes. Keep the bulbs cool, below 65 degrees, until ready to plant.

Tulips perform best growing in full sun and generally normal rainfall is enough moisture. They tolerate a wide range of soils as long as the drainage is good.

Tulips are most dramatic when planted in drifts or masses with clumps of at least 15 – 20 bulbs. It is recommended to space the bulbs 5 – 6 inches apart, but for big splash space the bulbs 1 – 3 inches apart.


A background of other perennials or a small evergreen hedge will make the blooms really stand out.

Definitely plant tulips in containers for additional color.

Low growing spring flowers like pansies and violas are good companions for tulips. Just plant these flowers right over the bulbs and the tulips will come up through the foliage. Where winters are mild plant pansies and violas in fall, cold climate gardeners can plant them in spring.

Good to Know

Tulips grown from seed often need 5 – 8 years of growth before plants are flowering size. Tulips from offsets or baby bulbs detached from the mother bulb require a year or more of growth before plants are large enough to flower.

Summer Bulbs

When a gardener mentions planting bulbs, the first flowers that often
come to mind may be daffodils and tulips. We plant these types in our
gardens in fall for glorious displays in the spring. But if you are
willing to expand your definition of a bulb, you will find a whole
new season of beautiful blooms and foliage in what I refer to as
summer bulbs. Now technically these plants include true bulbs,
along with tuberous roots, corms, and tubers or rhizomes, but
it is just simpler to use the blanket term – bulbs.

The plants that grow from summer bulbs will add a tropical touch
to your garden. Many varieties have thick fleshy leaves and exotic
flowers, which makes sense because most originate from subtropical
regions such as South American and South Africa. I like to mix them
in with my more traditional annuals and perennials to add a little
flair to my flower borders and containers.
Summer bulbs should be planted in late spring or early summer when
soil temperatures have warmed to about 55°F. In general
they should be planted close to the soil’s surface, about 1 to 2
inches deep. Choose a location that has well drained soil, unless
they are suited to boggy conditions. One of the nice characteristics
about these plants is that many types, such as elephant ears and
caladiums, will perform well in partial to full shade.

True to their sub-tropical heritage, these bulbs thrive in heat and
humidity, but you can also grow them in northern gardens. The trick
is to lift and store them in the fall before the first frost. How
you store the bulbs depends on what type of plant it is. Most are
lifted from the ground and stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool,
dry area.

To find unique varieties of summer bulbs you may have to go through
a mail order source. The best time to do this is in the spring.
Many mail order sources will offer special deals in late spring, but
don’t wait too late because sales and shipping often end in June.
Summer bulbs will be available at your local nursery from spring
through mid-summer.

Four Easy Summer Bulb Garden Designs

Full Sun

P. Allen Smith's Garden Favorites Summer Bulb Collection
P. Allen Smith's Garden Favorites Summer Bulb Collection

Partial Shade

P. Allen Smith's Garden Favorites Summer Bulb Collection
P. Allen Smith's Garden Favorites Summer Bulb Collection

Mythological Amaryllis

In Greek mythology Amaryllis was a lovesick shepherdess who stood at the door of her intended every night piercing her heart with a golden arrow. From her wounds sprung an exquisite flower.

Now that’s what I call the hard way to grow these gorgeous blooms. Unlike the Amaryllis in Greek mythology you can grow dramatic blooms this winter without a single puncture to the heart. Simply pot up a few bulbs this fall. With a little water and sunshine you’ll have breathtaking blooms in just over a month.

Here are a few varieties I’m trying this year. I feel certain that if Amaryllis had these to offer her flower-loving beau her fate would have been much rosier.

Amaryllis Dancing Queen

Clockwise from left: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Double Dragon’, ‘Blossom Peacock’.

Amaryllis Clown

Amaryllis ‘Clown’

Amaryllis Varieties

Clockwise from left: ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Red Pearl’, ‘Vera’, ‘Elvas’.

 

Tulip Color Combinations

This fall gardeners across the country will plant tulip bulbs and then patiently wait until the following spring to see the results of their efforts.  It’s an astounding example of a gardener’s resolve.

But the wait is always worth it, because nothing beautifies the spring garden like a bed filled with colorful tulips.

Thanks to Dutch hybridizers, tulips are available in an astounding variety of forms and colors.  In fact, there are so many to choose from it can sometimes be overwhelming.  Over the years I’ve learned a few things that help me design gorgeous tulip displays.

My first tip is to plant tulips in groups of 15 or more.  This will create a big block of color that is much more impressive than dots of flowers here and there.

Second, when selecting a location for the bulbs, pick an area where they will be cast against a dark background such as an evergreen hedge or the foundation of your house. If you have purchased more than one variety, plant the taller ones to the back and the shorter ones in the front.

To extend bloom time select varieties that flower early, mid- and late season.  For example, a grouping of Single Early (early), Darwin (mid), and Lily-Flowered (late) will flower in progression over the course of several weeks.

When it comes to color, the sky is the limit.  You can’t go wrong planting several shades of the same color family such as a blend of almost white, pale pink, dark pink and salmon.

If you are feeling adventurous tulips are a natural for trying out color combinations.  For the most exciting results allow one variety to take the lead and plant in a ratio of 2:1:1.  And be sure all the varieties you select bloom around the same time.

Below is a list of some of my successful experiments and a few of the varieties that I have used to express them.

Tulips Menton, Perestroika and Temple of Beauty
Warm Blend
1. Pink ‘Menton’
2. Orange-Red ‘Temple of Beauty’
3. Salmon ‘Perestroika’

Tulips Queen of the Night, Menton and Bleu Amiable
Cool Colors
1. Purple – ‘Queen of the Night’
2. Rose-Pink – ‘Menton’
3. Lavender – ‘Bleu Amiable’

Tulips Maureen, Greenland and Pink Diamond
Quintessential Spring
1. Cream – ‘Maureen’
2. Green – ‘Greenland’
3. Pink – ‘Pink Diamond’

Tulips Queen of the Night, Spring Green, Bleu Amiable
Purple and Green
1. Deep Purple – ‘Queen of the Night’
2. Green – ‘Spring Green’
3. Lavender – ‘Bleu Amiable’

Tulips Francois, Spring Green, Maureen and Nemesia
Yellow and Blue
1. Yellow – ‘Francoise’
2. Green – ‘Spring Green’
3. Cream – ‘Maureen’
4. Blue – Plant pansies or nemesia as show here in spring.

Other Possibilities:
Orange-reds
‘Temple of Beauty’ – Orange-red, 30″ tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Avignon’ – Orange-red, 24″-28″ tall, Midseason Bloom
‘General de Wet’ – Orange-red, 13″ Tall, Early Season Bloom

Salmons
‘Perestroika’ – Salmon, 30″ tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Lightening Sun’ – Salmon, 20″ Tall, Midseason Bloom
‘Beauty Queen’ – Salmon 16″ tall, Early Season Bloom
‘Dordogne’ – Salmon, 26″ Tall, Late Season Bloom

Pinks
‘Menton’ – Pink, 26″ tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Queen of Bartigons’ – Pink, 22″ tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Palestrina’ – Pink with green feathering, 16″, Early Season Bloom
‘Meissner Porzellan’ – White with Pink Edges, 22″ Tall, Midseason Bloom
‘Glowing Pink’ – Pink, 20″ Tall, Midseason Bloom
‘Elizabeth Arden’ – Pink, 22″ Tall, Midseason Bloom

Purples
‘Lilac Perfection’ – Pale Lavender, Double Flowers, 16″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Blue Amiable’ – Lilac Blushed with Blue, 24″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Cum Laude’ – Violet, 16″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Blue Parrot’ – Bright Lavender, 22″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Queen of the Night’ – Deep Purple, 20″, Late Season Bloom
‘Purple Prince’ – Purple, 14″ Tall, Early Season Bloom

Greens
‘Spring Green’ – Cream with Green Flames, 20″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Greenland’ – Rose pink with Green Flames, 20″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Greenwave’ – Pink with Green Flames, Parrot, 20″ Tall, Late Season Bloom

Creams
‘Francoise’ – Creamy white with yellow flames, 24″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Maureen’ – Creamy white, 26″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Mount Tacoma’ – White Double, 20″, Early Season Bloom
‘Cream Jewel’ – Opens Yellow and Matures to Cream, 24″ Tall, Late Season Bloom

Yellows
‘Cistula’ – Pale Yellow with Darker Yellow Tips, Lily Flowering, 22″ Tall, Late Season Bloom
‘Sweet Harmony’ – Crisp Yellow with Cream Edges, 24″, Late Season Bloom
‘Golden Melody’ – Soft Yellow, 20″ Tall, Midseason Bloom

Summer Bulbs for Water Features

An important feature of a well-designed garden is a focal point. Something with strong visual interest can become the exclamation mark among the flowers and foliage. I like to add a focal point that infuses the garden with personality. Water does just that for me.

Believe it or not but water features have been a part of gardening since ancient times and are well represented in every era and culture. In the Italy of 1550 AD, several royal houses constructed elaborate water gardens incorporating mechanical devices. The best-known is the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. Villa d’Este has a hill cascading with fountains and grottoes with water-driven figures that move or spout water. Then along came the industrial age and the invention of the water pump allowed us to harness water power. Pumps made it possible to recirculate water instead of diverting it from rivers and springs like in early times.

Then as water feature popularity spread across Europe, Hellbrunn Palace added a fun twist to theirs. Named “folly fountains”, these spouts would erupt without notice to surprise people for their entertainment. Remember, there was no cable TV back then …

But you really don’t have to go to those lengths in order to enjoy a water garden. I like the enchanting quality that water adds to a garden. Hot days just seem cooler when you’re relaxing by a tranquil pond with the sound of moving water providing a soothing background rhythm. It’s also a place where wildlife will come to take a morning drink and I can watch them from a distance while sipping my coffee.

Some water features are very formal with sharp edges and geometric shapes. Others are more organic, mimicking nature. Both styles benefit from the addition of moisture loving plants. In addition to the usual suspects many summer “bulbs” are beautiful additions to pools, fountains and ponds.

Here is a list of ones that I have used in masses all around my different garden ponds. Mix and match them as perennial elements in your water feature designs. Some you can plant in pots to sink in the water, others will thrive in the moist soil around the edges.

Plants for PondsAcidanthera – Try some as an unexpected garden surprise. They prefer the water’s edge.

Caladium candidum – I love using the different Caladiums and I especially like this one for its large green leaf texture and white venation to play against spikey leaved or small textured leaved plants in the planting design. The other advantage of using Caladiums is that you can bring spots of bright white or rosy color to shady spots around the water’s edge.

Calla Lily ‘Black Forest’, ‘Dark Eyes’, ‘Flame’, ‘Neon Amour’ – Calla lilies are another plant that can handle the sun or the shade. Callas will flower in a whole rainbow of color plus the leaves are large, glossy and oftentimes spotted or variegated adding to the visual interest around the water or emerging from pots submerged in the water.

Canna ‘Bronze Rosever’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Red King Humbert’ – Cannas are another versatile summer bulb that serves triple duty in my water garden. The large leaves bring textural interest, the plant has amazing flowers and leaves that you can plant close to the water, even a little submerged and it will thrive. Plus this plant will tolerate some shade!

Elephant Ear Colocasia (pendulous leaves) and Elephant Ear Alocasia (upright leaves) – Elephant ears lend a powerful focal point to a pond planting. Plant these in the water as well as around the water’s edge to soften the transition from liquid to terra firma. ‘Hilo Beauty’ has lovely white spots and ‘Illustris’ sports a dark purple leaf.

Eucomis bicolor – This unique bloom is visually true to its common name – pineapple lily. Plant it close to the water’s edge.

Fritillaria michailovskyi is – Another intriguing accent to consider around water features.

Galtonia candicans – Commonly known as Summer Hyacinth, this is another interesting bulb to add to beds around a pond, plus it is gently fragrant.

Iris ‘Alba’, ‘Bronze Beauty’, ‘Caesar’s Brother’, ‘Golden Beauty’ – Don’t be afraid to use irises right in the pond edge or potted and dropped right into the water, they can handle wet feet just fine!

Liatris spicata – Gayfeather is perfect around the pond; it attracts bees, birds, butterflies and hummingbirds and is also a summer flower arrangement mainstay.

Tulip-Filled Planter Box

Tulip Filled Planter BoxThis trio of dark green dwarf Alberta spruce creates a rhythmic backdrop for an array of colorful spring flowers. You can pot up this combination this fall for winter interest and a beautiful display next spring when the tulips emerge. If you live in a region where winters are severe, place the planter in a sheltered area to protect the bulbs from freezing. Although the ajuga and creeping Jenny will die back in the winter they are both cold hardy to zone 3 and will return next spring.

This planter box is sensational placed against a bare wall decorated with a single eye-catching architectural feature, such as a mask, hanging above it.

(1) Faux lead/resin trough – 33" long x 17" wide x 14" deep

(3) 1 gallon Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ?Conica’)
(4) 1 qt. Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ?Aurea’)
(4) 1 qt. ?Bronze Beauty’ Ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Bronze Beauty’)
(12) plants or (2) six packs Viola (Viola cornuta)
(20) Elizabeth Arden Tulips

Tulips are real knockouts in this planter box, emerging from a sea of violas. Be generous when filling in the center of the planter, setting bulbs "shoulder to shoulder." Creeping Jenny and ajuga join in the cozy display and spill over the sides of the container, softening the planter’s edge.

This arrangement sustains its beauty beyond the spring season. After the tulips fade, replace them with a series of pink dianthus or salmon geraniums. The ajuga and creeping Jenny stay on to become more lush as the season unfolds.

Things to keep in mind:
Invent your own similar recipe if these plant varieties aren’t available in your area.

Alberta spruce can be substituted with another conical evergreen, creeping Jenny could be replaced with a golden variegated ivy, and if tulips aren’t available, try other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils or hyacinths. Even the violas can be substituted with pansies or purple nemesia.

Make sure the stand-ins require the same water and light conditions.

Unusual Summer Bulbs

Summer “bulb” is a general term that covers more than bulbs; there are rhizomes, corms, and tubers too. With all these options it’s no surprise that the category of summer bulbs includes a lot of variety and goes well beyond the usual canna, dahlia and lily. Here are 5 interesting summer bulbs that I grow in my garden with uncommon beauty.

Colchicum speciosum, agrippinum or autumnale

Also known as Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus, Colchicum species will add sparks of color to your late summer or fall garden. These bulbs produce flowers similar to crocus in appearance, but they are actually members of the lily family.

Excellent hybrid varieties to try include ‘Autumn Queen’ with deep violet flowers; ‘The Giant’, which has pinkish-mauve blooms on a white base; ‘Waterlily’ which is double flowering and lilac colored; ‘Lilac Wonder’ that is pinkish-lilac; ‘Conquest’ is violet; and ‘Violet Queen’ has purplish-mauve flowers and a white center.

Plant corms in late summer or early fall 2 to 4 inches below soil level; 6 inches apart. Choose a location in full sun to partial shade with good, well-draining soil. Good planting sites include the filtered shade of large trees and shrubs, rock gardens or low growing groundcovers. Allowing them to naturalize under low growing, carpeting plants makes a nice backdrop for the flowers. Perennial in zones 4 through 9, colchicums get bigger and better with age.

Good to know – Corms that do not get planted on time will bloom anyway. And you can force them to flower once indoors by setting them upright on a bed of pebbles in a bowl of water up to their base.

Crocosmia X crocosmiflora (Montbretia)

This member of the Iris family has been a favorite for generations in the South, where you can find them flowering in old gardens and home sites. The red, orange or yellow flowers typically bloom mid-summer to fall adding splashes of color to the late season garden during the dog days of summer. Even when they are not in bloom the spikey foliage offers contrast and texture.

Crocosmia is easy to grow in hardiness zones 6 – 10. Set out the corms in early spring when the danger of frost is past. Plant in full sun or partial shade in hotter climates. Plant 3 to 5 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart and group a dozen or more together for the best effect.

There are several cultivars worthy of a primary spot in your garden. ‘Lucifer’ is definitely worth planting with its 4 foot flower stalks and brilliant scarlet flowers. Others are ‘Emily McKenzie, orange with maroon splotches; ‘George Davidson’, lemon yellow flowers on 2 foot stems; and ‘Solfatare’, apricot-yellow flowers with bronze leaves.

Liatris spicata, aspera, pycnostachya

Also known as Blazing Star or Gayfeather, these native perennials endure heat, cold, drought and poor soil. With an extended summer bloom period, the long stems emerge from grassy tufts showcasing rosy-purple bottle brush blooms. These hardy plants return yearly and oftentimes reseed to create colonies of colorful clumps.

Excellent for cutting, drying and beautiful in the border these plants thrive in full sun or part shade and well drained even dry soil with a wide range of texture and fertility. Best grown in as much sun as possible to produce a strong plant.

Plant corms in early spring or in late summer to early fall 1 inch deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, further apart in humid environments. Keep adequately spaced for good air circulation. Water them regularly to establish the plants but DO NOT overwater. The number of days before blooming is about 70- 90 days. Sometimes support is needed as the stems elongate in windy areas or if the flower spikes topple over if overly fertilized. Dry by hanging upside down in a dry area. Varieties that are worthy to grow in the garden are ‘Kobold’ which is a deeper purple, ‘Silver Tips’ with silvery lavender blooms and ‘Floristan White’ which is an excellent flower for cutting.

Good to know – Growing from corms the ones that are 2 to 7 centimeters long produce the greatest number of flowering stems and as the day length increases the number of flowering stems per corm decreases.

Lycoris squamigera

Call it what you like – Magic Lily, Surprise Lily, Naked lady or Resurrection Lily – Lycoris squamigera is the easiest to grow in the Lycoris family. The pink trumpet shaped blooms provides a real show in the garden. The foliage appears in the early spring, disappears around mid-summer, and then the flowers pop up in early fall. Surprise!

Surprise lilies easily adapt to most growing conditions and are dependable in both the landscapes and containers. Hardy in zones 5 – 11, this is the cold hardiest of the species. It thrives in full sun or partial, open shade and various types of well-drained soil. Plant bulbs about 4 inches deep, 6 inches apart in the fall and then don’t disturb for several years. They will gradually spread over time. Water moderately and apply a liquid fertilizer monthly until the leaves die down.

Good to know – When potting in a container, set them with the tops exposed. And don’t use too large of pot as these bulbs bloom best with crowded roots.

Polianthes tuberose

With good drainage and ample mulching, these Mexican exotics are quite rewarding. They are prized for their tall sprays of pearly white, tubular, very fragrant flowers. Plant them near a patio, walk, deck or other living space to enjoy the spicy-sweet fragrance.

‘The Pearl’ is a double flowered variety and most widely known, but the single flowered types make the longest lasting cut flowers.

Hardy in zones 7(with protection) – 10, grow tuberoses in organically rich, well-draining soil. Plant the rhizomes 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in spring after the threat of frost is past. Provide consistent moisture throughout the growing season.

Good to know – Don’t forego tuberoses if you live in an area where they aren’t hardy. Just treat them as an annual. Start pots indoors in early spring and move them outdoors to a sunny location after the threat of frost has passed.