Little Bulbs

For the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve been building a crocus carpet in the narrow strip of lawn that leads from the kitchen door to a grape arbor in front of the tall hemlock hedge. Every fall, in go a couple of hundred bulbs, which is about what I have money and time for, idea being that they’d keep spreading and by and by before I was too ancient, there the thing would be, a glorious tapestry of mixed colors, shining in the spring sunlight. For maximum punch and longevity, there are as many threads as possible : mostly early, small species types like chrysanthus and tomasianus, but always with a few giant Dutch gobsmackers, just so it doesn’t get too tasteful.

For years, the plan worked great … every spring there were more little clumps of yellow and white and purple cheerfully popping through the brownish green, looking sort of like willing wildflowers, and every year a few of the clumps were a little bigger, crocus puddles instead of crocus clumps. But this year we’ve hit tilt. It’s finally a carpet all right, but it looks moth-eaten. There are now more flowers than lawn but not enough to cover it, so the patchiness is backward.

It would take at least three more years to really pave the place at the present rate, at least two ugly springs too many. It’s either spend the whole bulb budget on the stupid thing and plant about 600 this fall or else it’s elimination time. Removing instead of adding would restore the wildflower-popping through effect, which may turn out to be prettier anyway.

In terms of effort , it’s more or less a wash, so I’m kind of inclined to just go for it, and that brings us to today’s homily:

* Don’t forget to take snapshots of your bulb plantings. Put a few identifying markers in, too, like yardsticks or little signs that say “10 feet from porch door at 90 degree angle.” While you’re at it, make want/need lists. In June, when the fall catalogs start coming, offering tempting discounts to those who order by July 15th , you’ll be glad you did.

SNOWDROPS: Back when I was gassing on about how great snowdrops are ( on February 9th) , I promised instructions for how to divide them when the time came. The time has come – or is about to. Ideal moment is after flowers finish but before seedpods have started to harden.

* best planting sites are sheltered from high winds, in partial sun or light shade, in soil that retains some moisture in summer (but not heavy clay).

* Soil should be very moist on transplanting day; if the weather has been dry, water both the clumps to be divided and the destination sites several hours before the job.

* Working in the late afternoon, Use a digging fork to pry up established clumps. Separate ’em. Big bulbs and their leaves can move as onesies; if you have lots of threadlike seedlings all root-intertwined, move them in groups of 3 to 7 ( depending on just how threadlike they are).

* Replant at the same depth, keeping bulbs 2 bulb-widths apart, keeping clumps separated even more. Be sure the roots are well spread out.

* Clipping off seedheads is optional. It may help the plants re-establish, since roots can concentrate on the job at hand. But usually, they’ll be happy – or not – without this additional aid, so you might as well not bother.

* Don’t forget to keep the transplants watered until the leaves start dying down.

Enough. For this post let’s just say a tomato “canned” in glass is 300,000 times tastier than a tomato canned in a can and that’s partly because the home canned tomato is (usually) a tastier variety to start with. Be sure to leave room in the garden for plenty of plants.

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  • daisygrrl Said,

    Hi, Leslie, it’s daisygrrl from Rhinebeck. (DB) The crocus carpet…it sounds pretty. A question: can you actually walk on it, like a thyme walk or a moss walk?

    I am assuming the answer is no, but had to ask….

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Daisy

    Your assumption is correct – no walking from sprouts-up until bloom is over, and then not much until mowing time in late spring. After that, feel free to play volleyball or roll around disporting yourself in whatever manner appeals.

    And you probably already know this, but just in case someone else is reading: thyme and moss will take some foot traffic, but wouldn’t stand the pounding they’d get on a frequently travelled path. If you’re thinking about direct routes through the yard, stepping stones through the pretties (with lots of same in the cracks between) are the smarter way to go.

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