I grew up in Cleveland and when visiting my grandparents' grave around 1967 I saw Daffodil Hill for the first time. I was profoundly affected by the hillside filled with thousands of daffodils at Lake View Cemetery. I didn't know they were daffodils at the time, but I knew there was something special about the flowers.
When I moved to Pittsburgh I told my mother that I was going to plant my own daffodil hill in memory of family members buried at Lake View. Each year I try to add about 1000 bulbs to the landscape; not all daffodils, but a little bit of everything.
I must confess to being obsessed with double daffs though. Above is Tahiti, it's just one of the many doubles I plant every season. 'Sir Winston Churchill' is another favorite, it's a multi flowered double that's late blooming, long blooming and smells like gardenias. I plant them around seating areas in the garden. Every year I seem to sit down a little bit more often in the garden. It's nice to have the fragrance of "Sir Winston Churchill' (below) as company.
I've experimented with many ways to plant and I've settled on the bulb auger as the easiest tool to use.
It's just a giant drill bit and when attached to a drill it makes bulb planting pretty easy and fun. We all start with the short handled planter pictured (below left); I refer to it as "cruel and unusual punishment for gardeners. Plant ten bulbs with it and then wonder what you'll do with the other 90 from the box!
Planting bulbs right now doesn't give us the instant gratification that many garden tasks offer, but after a long winter there's nothing like seeing snowdrops or crocus blooming. They might not be around long, but the flowers provide welcome relief from the bland surroundings of the season.
This essay shows the power that bulbs can have. It's about a little pocket of crocus my mother planted in the late 60's, and my last look at the flowers.
If you ever get a chance to watch Rick Sebak's Cemetery Special, there's a segment on Lake View that includes me explaining how the flowers affected me.
I'll plant the big three; daffodils, tulips and crocus, but there are many different bulbs to consider. Here's a list of my favorites-
- Snowdrops an early bloomer, I plant them close to the house and have seen flowers as early as February 15th. My first planting was a gift from a reader who thought I would enjoy them. These little white flowers would be lost in June, but are the star of the show as one of the first flowers in bloom.
- Chionodoxa (glory of snow), blooms with the crocus, if deer resistant and forms a colony over the years. 'Pink Giant' is one of my favorite cultivars.
- Hyacinths are beautiful and wonderfully fragrant. One bloom can fill a room with the aroma of spring.
- Alliums come in many shapes and sizes but are probably best known for their globular purple blooms. I like to mix white blooms with the purple.
- Fritillaria is a wide ranging genus that offers something different in the bulb garden.
- Asian lilies offer amazing early summer blooms and many are intensely fragrant. They are easy to grow and will provide more blooms each season when planted where they are happy.
I like to buy bulbs locally when I can find what I want. Right now, I pay retail, but as the season progresses nurseries will mark them down. By Thanksgiving the price drops to 50 percent, then down from there. As long as the ground has not frozen solid, you can still plant. One year I put in 1000 grape hyacinths in January and it only cost $11.
When ordering online, use a reliable bulb house, my favorites are Brent and Becky's Bulbs, Old House Gardens, White Flower Farm and Dutch Gardens. If you see an ad for bulbs and it seems too good to be true, it is. You'll be shipped small bulbs that won't reach their potential until seasons to come, if ever. The best bulb catalogs tell you how big the bulbs are.
So what are you waiting for? Get planting!