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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!
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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.
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Plant Like a Tulipmaniac

Other than the rose, the tulip has to be the most recognizable flower in the world. They originated in the Near East, but about 500 years ago the Dutch brought them west and kicked off a period that is referred to as Tulipmania.

The famous Tulipmania was a period in the 1600s when tulip bulbs were sold in Holland for astronomically high prices. Single bulbs for popular varieties like ‘Viceroy’ going for as much as 4,200 florins. Much like our tech and housing bubbles, everything came to an end around 1637. I’m not sure if it’s comforting or concerning that we’re still falling into the same traps.

Red tulips initially grabbed people’s attention because it was such an unusual color for the spring garden at the time. However, it was the variegated hybrids that fetched big prices. Red or purple flames against a white background were particularly favored. What we know now is the fancy coloring was due to mosaic virus and most of the Tulipmania varieties are no longer available. These days a similar look is achieved through hybridizing.

If you want to emulate the look of a Tulipmania garden, try these tulip varieties.

Tulips similar to Tulipmania Tulips

  1. ‘Arabian Mystery’
  2. ‘El Cid’
  3. Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’
  4. ‘Flair’
  5. ‘Monsella’
  6. ‘Blushing Beauty’
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Selecting Spring Bulbs

Although fall bulb planting time may seem months away, it will be here sooner than you think. And to get those beautiful spring blooms, you have to plant bulbs in the fall. Here are a few tips on selecting bulbs for your garden.

Color
When thinking about which bulb varieties to choose, the first step is to consider your existing color palette. Here are a few questions to ask. What color is your house? What other plants will be flowering in the garden at the same time as the spring bulbs? What foliage colors will be around the bulbs? By thinking about what colors will surround the spring bulbs, you can select a complementary palette.

Then decide what type of impact you want to make. Are you looking for a bold splash of color, or a drift of soothing hues? Next, consider possible colors combinations of bulbs. I like to plant the bulbs in various shades of the same color family. ‘Queen of the Night’, a deep purple tulip, looks spectacular when combined with the pale purple color of ‘Lilac Perfection’ tulip. And then, for a dash of contrast, I add pale yellow violas.

Height

You don’t want to spend two days planting 600 bulbs only to find that they are too short to rise above the boxwood hedge in front of them, or plant a drift of tall daffodils that obscure the view of smaller species tulips planted with them. Always check the estimated height of the bulbs you purchase. This will help you determine where you place them in your overall design.

Bulb Size
Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the higher the grade, and that means the larger the flower. However, bigger is not always better. It all depends on the bulb type. I purchase large size tulip bulbs because in my garden, tulips don’t always come back the next year. I’m interested in getting the best performance out of them, so I go for bigger bulbs and bigger flowers. With daffodils, I usually plant smaller bulbs because they tend to multiply and increase over time. On the flip side, larger bulbs are usually better for flowers that you will be forcing into bloom, such as amaryllis, paperwhites, and hyacinths.

Quantity
I like to plant large drifts of twelve to fifteen bulbs of the same variety. The effect is like painting the garden with a large brush of color. With this in mind, I decide where I want to establish a particular design and then figure out how many drifts of each variety I need. This helps me tally the number of bulbs to buy. Sometimes I tack on an extra five or ten bulbs to allow for squirrels digging up a few, Mother Nature’s hands in my plan, or a change in the design.

Early, Mid and Late Season
Bulb varieties can also be grouped according to their bloom times, flowering in either early, middle or late spring. For instance, narcissus ‘February Gold’ blooms in late winter, narcissus ‘Minnow’ blooms mid-spring and narcissus ‘Stainless’ blooms at the end of spring. By planting all three varieties I can have continuous wave of flowers throughout the season. Check packaging and catalog descriptions for the bloom time of bulbs.

Combinations
When you plan for color, height, and bloom time you can come up with some pretty dazzling displays. Sometimes I buy several varieties of one type of bulb, say all tulips or narcissus. For other areas of my garden, I like to mix bulb types to create the quintessential spring bulb garden. The combination of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus erupts into a riot of spring color and bloom.

Whatever type of look you choose for your garden, be sure and plant some bulbs this fall. Just about the time you have forgotten where and when you planted them, your flowerbeds will burst forth with a dazzling spring display.

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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.

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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

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Dividing Garden Amaryllis

I live in upstate South Carolina and plant amaryllis bulbs in my yard. They are beautiful this year with so many blooms I can’t count them. I would like to separate and share them with friends, but do not know when I should do this. Can you help me? Does the foliage need to die down?

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are usually grown indoors as a winter blooming bulb, but they are commonly seen growing in gardens in temperate climates (zone 8 to 11) and they are even marginally cold hardy where I garden (zone 7). I have not tried growing Hippeastrum in the garden, but my mother’s neighbor had a flowerbed full of them.

While forced Hippeastrums bloom anytime from Christmas to late winter, outdoors the flowers appear in late spring and early summer. Over time the bulbs will naturalize and while they prefer to be root bound, you can dig and split them to generate more bulbs.

Dig the bulbs in late fall when the leaves begin to fade. Carefully lift the bulbs from the soil. Wash off the soil. You will notice that the mother bulb has bulblets or offsets coming off the base. Separate the offsets from the main bulb using a sharp knife.

Replant immediately with the neck and shoulders above the soil line. Plant in well-drained soil in filtered sunlight; too much sun may burn the leaves.

Store the bulbs you are planning to give to friends in a cool, dry location.

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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

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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.