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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.


  • 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


    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.

Potted flowering plants
Plastic baggies
Decorative container
Sheet moss

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.

Bulbs that Naturalize

One of my favorite areas of the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home is Daffodil Hill. We’ve planted over 200,000 daffodil bulbs there and in spring the hillside is awash in shades of yellow. The nice thing about daffodils is they will naturalize or reproduce so eventually all the narcissus clumps on Daffodil Hill will grow together.

There are other bulbs that will naturalize such as crocus, dwarf iris, grape hyacinths, daylilies, blazing stars, Spanish bluebells, snowdrops, leucojums, spider lilies and rain lilies. If you want to try naturalizing bulbs in your garden here are a few tips to follow.


  • Be sure to choose an area where the bulbs can remain undisturbed and the foliage remain intact for at least 8 weeks after the flowers fade. Meadow grasses grow alongside the bulbs on Daffodil Hill hiding the ratty foliage. Right about the time the grass needs mowing, the daffodil leaves are ready to cut back.
  • Pair your bulbs with a groundcover such as ajuga, violets, periwinkle, liriope or winter creeper. This will add seasonal color to the usually green space and the groundcover will camouflage the fading bulb foliage. The groundcover should be no more than half the height of the bulb to make sure the flowers are visible.
  • If you do mass plantings of a single color or two you get much more visual impact. Daffodil Hill is a combination of yellows, oranges and white.
  • If available, choose a range of varieties with early, mid and late bloom times. This will extend the flowering season.
  • Select an area that has well draining soil so bulbs won’t rot.
  • Feed the bulbs at planting time and again each fall. Soft rock phosphate and greensand will provide several years worth of phosphorous and potassium and a dressing of compost each year provides the rest of the nutrients needed.
  • Mother Nature does not plant in straight lines so try to avoid this. Use nature as your guide and position bulbs in organic drifts.

Color Harmony and Color Contrast

One topic I am frequently asked about is how to use color in the garden. It is easy to get bogged down in all the rules and theories. Not to mention apply these to living plants. I always like to remind everyone that asks that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be timid about planting your favorite colors and trying new color combinations because your garden is all about you – if you don’t like what you ended up with you can always change it.

Spring flowering bulbs are some of the best plants for testing color in the garden because they are so easy to grow and when it comes to color choices, the sky is the limit. Tulips, iris, daffodils, and hyacinths are available in just about every color imaginable. This broad palette makes it easy to design spring flowering bulb plantings in contrasting or harmonious combinations.


You remember the color wheel, right? The contrasting a.k.a. complementary colors on the wheel are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. When paired together these colors make a bold, dramatic statement. To smooth out the edges mix in neighboring ‘cousin colors’ like yellow-orange and violet with yellow and purple. By using contrasting colors with their neighboring ‘cousin colors’ we create a more delicate, harmonious composition.

Contrasting Color Scheme in the Garden

When creating a contrasting color combination it’s a good idea to allow one color to dominate. For instance, if choose orange contrasted with purple plant more orange than purple or vice versa. You can soften the planting by filling in with a few of the color cousins like lavender and peach.

Good to Know: Contrasting Color Ratio

  • Dominant Color – 50%
  • Secondary Color – 25%
  • Cousin Color 1 – 15%
  • Cousin Color 2 – 10%


Some of the most memorable gardens I have seen have been developed around a single color family. It’s also one of the easiest color combinations to pull off. Just blend a single color and it’s cousin colors. A mix of red, red-orange, orange and yellow-orange is a beautiful warm color arrangement. The proportion of the harmonizing colors in the composition is based on your preferences.

Harmonious Color Scheme in the Garden

Perennial Tulips

I planted tulips for the 1st time three years ago. The following spring, the display was glorious. The joggers, dog-walkers and dogs all loved it. The next year only about a third of the blooms returned. I was so disappointed Is there any chance of having a reliably perennial tulip bed?

Tulips are only really reliably perennial in their native habitat of the Himalayas and eastern Turkey. They need extremely cold winters and hot, dry summers to come back year after year.

Both species tulips and Darwin hybrids are known to return. The darker hued Darwin hybrids do better than the pastel ones.

Plant your tulips in an area that gets good drainage and plant them deep, about eight inches from the bottom of the bulb to the soil line. Fertilize in the fall and spring. After the blooms have faded remove the spent flowers and allow the foliage to die back naturally. This helps the bulbs store up energy for next year’s bloom.

Here’s a short list of tulips that have been found to be successful repeat bloomers.

‘Apeldoorn’s Elite’(Darwin Hybrid)red with orange-yellow
‘Ballade’(Lily-flowering)violet with white edges
‘Beauty of Apeldoorn’(Darwin Hybrid)orange-yellow and red striped
‘Charles’(Single Early)deep red
‘Couleur Cardinal’(Single Early)violet-red
‘Golden Apeldoorn’(Darwin Hybrid)yellow
‘Maytime’(Lily-flowering)bright violet, white edges
‘Orange Emperor’(Fosteriana)orange
‘Oxford’(Darwin Hybrid)vermillion red
‘Plaisir’(Greigii)red with white edging
‘Red Emperor’(Fosteriana)red
‘Red Riding Hood’(Greigii)red
‘Stresa’(Kaufmanniana)yellow with red markings
‘Toronto’(Greigii)salmon pink-red
‘turkestanica’(species)white and cream
‘West Point’(Lily-flowering)yellow

Easy Summer Bulbs for Beginners

Although the gnarled appearance of dormant summer flowering bulbs like lilies and dahlias looks intimidating, these plants are a quick way to give your garden a lift. When it comes to growing, they are practically foolproof and most will bloom in the first season.

There are a few general tips to keep in mind when preparing to plant bulbs.

  • If your soil is hard and unforgiving, amend it with plenty of organic matter at least to the depth of your shovel.
  • Add a source of phosphorus such as soft rock phosphate and potassium such as greensand to the plant area.
  • Avoid soft, moldy or bruised bulbs and in general, plant with the pointy end up although some tubers and rhizomes have their own rules.
  • When you cut the flowers for arrangements leave the foliage until it dies back naturally to feed the bulbs for next year’s blooms.

Below are some really easy plants grown from bulbs that I use in my gardens.


Dahlias can hold their own among the most beautiful blooms in a flower border. Fully hardy to zone 8, the hybrids of the species may overwinter in zone 7 with mulch. Dahlias are at their best when grown in full sun in the North and afternoon shade in the South. Plant the tubers about 6 inches deep. Gardeners can get a head start by planting tubers in pots 4 – 6 weeks before the last spring frost date. For exhibition size blooms remove side shoots and allow only one bud per stem to develop. If deadheaded, dahlias will continue flowering until frost. Dahlias make an excellent cut flower. To keep blooms fresh longer place the cut stems in a vase filled with hot water that cools to room temperature.


Asiatic LilyA very easy bulb to grow and plant, the stately lilies come in many different types. Available in a myriad of colors, different bloom seasons and dwarf sizes, it’s easy to place them wherever you have a space and need a little something extra. Lilies have three main cultural requirements – deep, loose soil; ample moisture year round; and cool roots with sun on the leaves. Planting depth varies according to the size of the bulb but err on the shallow side as lily roots will adjust to proper depth. You can plant them as close as 6 inches apart for a dense, massed effect. If clumps become too crowded dig and divide them in spring or fall.


EucomisPineapple Lily or King’s Flower produces a unique cluster of blooms topped with a crown of leafy bracts giving it look of a pineapple. Mid-summer flowers range in color from white to greenish purple to dark purple and attractive seed capsules follow. The glossy strap shaped leaves are 1 to 2 feet in length. Hardy in zones 8 – 10 (zone 7 with mulch), Eucomis prefers full sun and well drained soil Plant bulbs in spring about 12 inches apart and about 6 inches deep. Keep plants moist during the growing season. Easy, reliable and fun, these bulbs will make an unusual statement in your garden and long lasting cut flowers as well.

Ornamental Onions (Allium)

Ornamental OnionThese statement making flowers are cousins with garlic, onions, leeks, and chives. While their relatives are prized for their flavor, ornamental onions get noticed for beautiful blooms that appear in late spring or early summer. Plant bulbs in fall in a spot that receives full sun with well drained soil. Space them 6 inches apart and bury about 3 inches deep with the pointed end up. Planting in groups of 3 – 5 bulbs creates a full display. The foliage will die back after the flowers fade. Positioning them among showy summer plants will help hide the dying leaves. Over time the bulbs will multiply. You can dig and remove the offset bulbs after they go dormant. Hardy in zones 4 – 9

Ornithogalum arabicum

OrnithogalumArabian Star Flower or Star of Bethlehem in an heirloom plant dating back to 1574. The fragrant, white blooms with showy black pistils open in late spring or early summer. Grow Ornithogalum in full sun to part shade and space them 3 – 6 inches apart in any good garden soil that is well drained. Keep plants moist during the growing season. If left undisturbed the clumps will expand up to 12 inches across over time. As cut flowers the blossoms are easy to care for and will last for 1 to 3 weeks in an arrangement. Where not hardy, use as an annual or plant them in a container. They are hardy in zones 8 – 10.

10 Vibrant Tulips that will Cure Your Fear of Color

Are you chromophobic? Do you have a fear of color? While I don’t know anyone who truly suffers from chromophobia I do know people who are hesitant to incorporate color in their home or garden for fear of making the wrong choice. In fact, I used to be one of those people. I stuck to a palette of pastels and creams, but now my favorite color is orange. How did I get over my anxiety? Tulips. The varieties ‘Temple of Beauty’, ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Menton’ to be exact. Tulips offer a wide variety of bold colors without the commitment. Once you start experimenting with them you’ll be hooked.

Here are 10 tulip varieties and combinations to help cure your apprehension. These are my favorites from past springs. I encourage you to use these photos as inspiration to create your own vibrant combinations. I think you’ll find that color isn’t that scary after all.

Ease into red by selecting cool hues such as garnet or magenta. This is a mix of maroon (‘Black Parrot’), cherry red (‘King’s Blood’) and fiery red (‘Red Shine’). It’s especially marvelous when lit by the setting sun.

Tulips in shades of reds and maroon.

I’m crazy for orange, especially when paired with blues, pinks and purples. This trio of tulips matches orange with salmon and pink. Sticking to one color family creates harmony.

Pink, orange and salmon tulips.

‘Wirosa’ tulips make a blue-ribbon display with their large (up to 4-inches), peony-type blooms.

Pink and white Wirosa tulips.

Pink tulips cater to my love of cool colors while still being bright and cheerful. I love to blend pink and deep maroon. The dark ‘Queen of the Night’ gives depth to this planting of hot pink ‘Renown’ and ‘Survivor’.

Dark maroon tulips with pink tulips.

I love to use bright yellow in the spring garden when landscape it still fresh and the sunlight soft. Peony-flowering ‘Monte Carlo’ is a cheerful accent to the wine-colored ‘Negrita’ and orange ‘Princess Irene.’

Yellow peony tulips, purple and orange tulips.

Doesn’t this look like a basket full of Easter eggs? Here ‘Temple of Beauty’ is toned down by pairing it with the pastel petals of ‘Mrs. John Scheepers’, ‘Fringed Elegance’ and ‘Blushing Beauty’.

Pastel tulips.

‘World Expression’ is a good compromise for those of you who aren’t ready to jump into the color pond with both feet. The flowers open yellow with red flames. Over time the yellow fades to a beautiful ivory. Think goblets of strawberries and cream.

World Expression Tulips

‘Chato’ is a neon pink, multi-petal tulip that will electrify your garden. I planted them in a generous drift but imagine these satin blooms mixed with purple and orange tulips and a chartreuse groundcover such as creeping Jenny.

Bright pink Chato tulips.

Here’s a tip that will boost your color confidence. Select one hue to dominate and a few others in the same family or on the same side of the spectrum to expand your palette. To make it really interesting drop in a contrasting color. Here red is the lead color (‘Red Impressions’, ‘Red Shine’, ‘Apeldoorn’), which I’ve bolstered with warm orange (‘Daydream’) and yellow (‘Golden Parade’). ‘Queen of the Night’ adds an unexpected accent of cool burgundy.

Orange, yellow, red and wine colored tulips.

You’ll find lots of tulips in rich shades of orange. I think purple is a gorgeous partner for this glowing color. When pairing contrasting colors let one color rule. In this bed I planted a scattering of purple (‘Attila’) among the orange (‘Juan’).

P. Allen Smith with orange and purple tulips.

Miniature Flowering Bulbs

I encourage you to think small this year when you plant spring flowering bulbs in your garden. The dainty blooms of muscari, crocus, miniature daffodils and the like should not be overlooked. You can create big drama with little bulbs like these.

  • Plant in big drifts of one variety for maximum effect.
  • Use small bulbs in rock gardens where soil is shallow. Combine them with alpine flowers and dwarf evergreens.
  • Miniature blooms are perfect for fairy gardens. Plant a swath of blue crocus or muscari to look like a stream.
  • Don’t forget containers. Pack the bulbs in for a bright spot of color.

Miniature daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocus are a few easy bulbs to start with but there are many more. Here are a few to check out.

Anemone blanda (Windflower)

Windflowers bloom in early spring from tubers. They get to be 6 – 12 inches tall with a 2 inch wide flower. At night and on cloudy days they will fold up their petals. Grow in partial shade in compost rich soil. Hardiness depends on the type, so be sure to check this before you purchase. The single petaled, daisy-like blooms come in blue, pink and white.

Chinodoxa (Glory in the Snow)

Chinodoxa blooms in early spring on plants that are 3 – 10 inches tall. The dainty star shaped flowers look best when planted in large groups. Plants prefer cool, moist conditions and well draining soil. They will thrive in full sun but the blooms last longer if planted in partial shade.


Crocus are often the earliest flower we see in spring. Probably one of the best known of the small bulbs they grow 4 – 6 inches tall. Plant crocus bulbs in partial shade. They are very easy to grow and readily naturalize.

Miniature Iris

Danford (Iris danfordiae) and Reticulated (Iris reticulata) irises flower on stalks that are only 4 – 6 inches tall. The blooms appear in spring before the leaves fully emerge. The foliage persists for a few weeks after flowering then goes dormant in summer. Both are hardy to zones 5 – 10, grow them in full sun except in hot regions where they prefer afternoon shade.

Muscari (Grape hyacinths)

muscariTopping out at about 3 inches tall Muscari naturalize easily and look beautiful planted en masse in woodland areas. The blue, purple or white spring blooms are long lasting in cut arrangements too. The plants go dormant in summer then send up fresh foliage in the fall.

Miniature Daffodils

Many daffodil divisions include varieties that are small in stature. As with all narcissus they do best in full sun but will also grow in partial shade. Petite daffodils are perfect for containers, rock gardens and bringing indoors. For indoor bloom, plant bulbs in fall in shallow containers and put in cold frame or refrigerator at 40 – 80 degrees for 15 weeks. After the chilling period move the containers to a sunny windowsill. When the flower buds appear, move to filtered light.

Tulip Species

Species tulips are shorter than their hybrid cousins, usually 3 – 8 inches tall. They bloom in early spring and come in a range of colors. Plant the bulbs in early fall. Choose a spot with half day sun and half day shade and well draining soil. The nice thing about species tulips is they will come back year after year even in climates where spring is brief. They are hardy in zones 3 – 7. Their size and ability to naturalize makes them particularly suited to rock gardens.

Dramatic Tulip Container

Planting tulips in containers is a great way to enjoy these colorful spring flowering bulbs.  You can experiment with colors that you wouldn’t normally use and it’s ideal for those with limited space.  There’s really nothing to it.  All you need is a frost proof container, a bag of potting soil and the bulbs.

This container garden features dark maroon tulips.  The color is a bold statement in the spring garden and pairs well with more typical pastel purples and pinks of the season.


Frost proof container 10 inches wide and 24 inches deep
(2) 16-quart bags of potting soil
Slow release fertilizer
(75) ‘Queen of the Night’ tulip bulbs