{ Archive for the ‘bulbs’ Category }

My royal (tulip) shame

The day after I left for Amsterdam, my tulips decided to bloom. My husband took some photos for me and we had a good chuckle over the disparity between my sparse, evenly spaced tulips (I was just following the package directions!) and the beautiful clusters that abounded in the gardens of Holland. I've included examples below. This fall, rules be damned, I'm digging a giant hole and pouring a bag of bulbs in it!

My `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors`

My `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors`

Orange Princes at the Museum Van Loon, part of Amsterdam Tulip Days, a garden tour where 10 canal houses opened their private gardens to the public April 24 and 25.

Orange Princes at the Museum Van Loon, part of Amsterdam Tulip Days, a garden tour where 10 canal houses opened their private gardens to the public April 24 and 25.

One of the many stunning gardens full of tulips at the Keukenhof.

One of the many stunning gardens full of tulips at the Keukenhof.

How do you like your tulips? Freshly picked, or wild and withered?

This morning I headed to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam’s museum district. I wasn’t only interested in the Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings (though they were definitely a highlight), I was curious to see the tulip exhibit featuring rare tulip books from the 1600s. Apparently such books are quite rare as it became common at one point to remove the pages and sell them separately. There are currently two on display. In the one volume, artist Jacob Marrel captured 170 tulips in watercolour. The other book belonged to a rich widow by the name of Agneta Block who often made notes in the margins about the exorbitant prices she paid for her bulbs. Back in the day, tulips were a hot commodity until over-speculation caused the tulip “market” to crash. Along with other colourful tulip images, there are more Marrel pieces on display as well as exquisite ink drawings. What I found interesting was how some of the pieces featured tulips long past their prime. You know how the blooms get when their petals go all wild and crazy before falling off? Apparently artists found the blooms in this state to be much more interesting to paint. Wouldn’t those make for interesting bouquets in the flower market!

The exhibit runs until June 1.

Two tulips a butterfly and a shell (1637-1645) by Jacob Marrel. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

Two tulips a butterfly and a shell (1637-1645) by Jacob Marrel. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

A floating flower market in Amsterdam

I left two ‘Pink Emperor’ tulips that had just bloomed behind at home to come to the Netherlands, the birthplace of the Western world’s obsession with these spring bloomers. My day started with Van Gogh’s botanically inspired paintings and ended at the famous Bloemenmarkt with a wonderful guide by the name of Paulina. This ‘floating’ flower market on Amsterdam’s Singel canal dates back to 1862 when shipments would arrive by boat. Nowadays the stalls are more permanently secured with endless varieties of bulbs and blooms for sale. Paulina picked up some blue tulip bulbs, which she had never seen before, to plant in her garden. I hope she sends me a photo when they bloom! Here are a few photos I took of the market. Wish I could bring home 50 tulips for six euros!

A view of the Bloemenmarkt from the canal.

A view of the Bloemenmarkt from the canal.

50 tulips were 10 euros at the other end!

50 tulips were 10 euros at the other end!

You could even by dead flowers at the market!

You could even by dead flowers at the market!

My royal tulips and a big fall cleanup

I was way behind on my fall to-dos, but luckily Mother Nature gifted us with a fabulous weekend to finish off those last tasks — putting away the patio furniture, overwintering my pots, cleaning up the gardens and raking (and bagging).

But before I started on the big cleanup, I finally planted the bulbs I bought a few weeks ago (this article said I could)! After reading fellow CanadianGardening.com blogger Anja's piece on bulb planting, I purchased a bulb planter from Sheridan Nurseries. Armed with this handy tool, I dug them all into the ground and cross my fingers the squirrels won’t find them.

I chose my bulbs based on the gorgeous pinks and purples in the package photos. I hope my little royal family of `Purple Princes` and `Pink Emperors` doesn't let me down come spring!

Bulb planting made easy

4-001I finally managed to find some time to play in the garden on the weekend. Although my gardening to-do list wasn’t completed, I did manage to plant all my tulip bulbs. Every fall, I wait till the bulbs are on sale by mid-October they’re normally reduced by 40 to 60% off the regular price. This way I can buy more bulbs, while sticking to my gardening budget.2

When I worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington as a student gardener, I had the pleasure of planting tulip bulbs in the Rock Garden. Each year, the Spring Bulb Display showcases over 100,000 bulbs, which are brought in from growers in Holland. After they bloom, the bulbs are dug up and sold at the RBG’s bulb sale. Now consider planting 100,000 bulbs each and every September….now that’s a lot of bulbs.

4Instead of using a trowel to plant the bulbs, we used a bulb planter. Now this handy little tool saves a lot of time. Basically you rotate the handle as you push it into the soil. Once you’ve reached the specific depth, you pull it out. The soil is securely grasped in the cylinder, leaving a perfect hole to plant your bulb. Once you’ve nestled the bulb in its new home, you squeeze the spring-loaded handle, and it releases the soil, tucking the bulb in for the winter. If you’re wondering how far to dig the hole, the cylinder has gradation marks on the side for easy measurements.

5This handy device makes bulb planting a breeze. I spent 20 minutes planting 40 bulbs on the weekend and that included watering the bulbs and cleaning up. Now all I have to do is wait for spring!

Waifs and strays

img_2939Most experienced gardeners know it’s best to invest in a well-grown, top-quality plant. Well tended plants have the vigour and stamina needed to make the successful transition from nursery pot to garden. Once in awhile, though, I’m drawn to a less-than-stellar specimen at an end-of-season sale. Something about it telegraphs, “please give me a chance,” and I do.

Take the tree peony shown here, which was little more than a stick when I scooped it up a couple of years ago for $4. The few leaves it had were healthy and green, so I gave it a little talking to, a bit of TLC and planted it in the ground. This year, it’s powered up into a big, beautiful plant and rewarded me with more than a dozen massive, brilliantly hued blooms.

img_2963Ditto this Japanese maple, which I rescued quite late one fall for $20. A few of its branches had been broken off and it was a bit lopsided, but basically it appeared to be healthy and just needed some gentle pruning. I placed it in the back of the garden where its spindly condition wouldn’t be so noticeable.

Plain old Acer palmatum is the most commonly sold and hardiest of the Japanese maples in our Zone 6 Toronto climate, and I figured it had more of a fighting chance of surviving that first winter than some of the fancier, more finicky, cut-leafed marquee types. I was right. This once-scraggy example is now well on its way to becoming a graceful, shapely small tree.

Of course, I would never buy a plant that is clearly diseased or really needs to go to that great garden in the sky, and neither should you. But it’s fun to adopt a promising mutt and see it grow into a champion.

Another thing I love about gardens is the way mystery plants crop up in unexpected places. These may be gifts from the squirrels or the wind.

img_2931img_2967A lone candelabra or Japanese primula (Primula japonica, far left) appeared in the garden this year. I didn’t plant it, but it seems to have made itself right at home. And columbine (Aquilegia spp., left) in various colours seeds itself hither and yon, including in between the patio pavers.

A couple of doors up, the neighbours have a fine show of Allium giganteum, below. I grow various types of alliums as well, but not this one. However, I now have several of these in my front garden, courtesy of the squirrels (and inadvertently, my neighbour. Luckily I live on a very friendly street).

img_29461Take a look around your garden and see what unexpected gifts you might find out there. And keep your eyes open at the nursery for those orphan plants that deserve a good home and a fighting chance.

Of miracles and wonder

img_2821The mow, blow and go guys hit our neighbourhood weeks ago now, scraping gardens clean and leaving vulnerable plants naked. Tall brown bags lined the curbs like sentries, filled with leaves, prunings and garden debris. As usual, my garden was the scruffy holdout, because I like to wait until the weather is quite settled before I expose my plants to the unpredictable elements. If you rake with a light hand and judicious eye, little harm is done by waiting, in fact, quite the contrary. So my woodland garden out front remained defiantly covered with leaves until last weekend, when I got out there because around the corner, the neighbourhood’s best bluebell lawn was in full flower (below left). I use that as my fail-safe signal that spring–real spring–has finally arrived.

img_2829Out back, I thinned out the old, silver-edged, redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) and the ‘Diabolo’ ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’). It’s much easier to shape these shrubs and remove the wildwood and suckers before they’re covered in leaves. I lightly headed back a few other shrubs, removed old plant stalks and seedheads and spread leaf mould, compost and manure on the beds to add nourishment and texture to my sandy soil. I stashed the leaves I’d raked off the beds in old garbage cans out back, except for some of the ones out front that had been exposed to any salt or chemicals from the sidewalk or road. Some of these leaves will be layered in my composters, while others will become next year’s leaf mould. I have some bags of bark mulch at the ready, but I’ll wait for a bit to allow emerging plants to get more of a toehold and any seedlings and “found” plants to show themselves so I don’t accidentally smother them. Before the mulch is spread, I’ll give the garden a really good weeding and watering, too.

img_2841I also planted up a few spring pots with ranunculus (left), pansies and ivy. The sweetly scented pansies remind me of my grandmother, who planted some every year, too. The Lithuanian name for them is “broliukai,” which means little brothers, and that’s what they look like with their dear little faces.

We gardeners know what the phrase “full of the joys of spring” really means. Every morning yields a new treasure to admire–in my garden, it might be a double bloodroot flower; a bergenia; a checkerboard frittilaria; a species tulip; the signs of life in a dormant clump of ferns. When did that tree peony leaf out? How did the daffodils shoot up and bloom so quickly? And thank goodness the merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora, shown emerging below right) made it through another winter. img_2845

One of the head-turners in the front garden is the gorgeous, intensely blue hepatica (Hepatica nobilis, top), which blooms for weeks and weeks. In the back garden, two fragrant Viburnum carlesii standards are powering up to do their stuff.

I love going for walks to see what’s happening in other gardens as well. The star magnolias and some serviceberries are in full bloom, while the saucer magnolias are just coming into their own. Big-bellied robins strut around, looking very pleased with themselves.

img_2836In his song “The Boy in the Bubble,” the great Paul Simon wrote, “…these are the days of miracle and wonder.” This song is not about spring–in fact, far from it–but to me, these words sum up what happens right around here, right about now.

Next: more reports on spring

Hey, what happened to spring?

crocusblueflowersYesterday was a beautiful and sunny day, so I took a stroll around my yard with my camera to see if anything was growing yet. My irises and tulips are peeking through the leaves in my garden and I snapped this little crocus poking up on my neighbour’s lawn! In the backyard I found these sweet little blue flowers growing against my fence. I started dreaming of finally being able to get outside and preparing my yard for spring.
And then this morning, alas, it was snowing. I knew there had to be at least one more storm before we were allowed to enjoy spring, but things were looking so promising I thought we might escape winter’s last gasp.

daffodil3Luckily, I purchased daffodils last week to support the Canadian Cancer Society, so spring still exists in my kitchen. They were certainly a welcome sight this morning when I woke up to a raging storm!I just hope those little flowers survive this frosty weather.

Searching for signs of spring

img_2654As the song goes, “spring will be a little late this year.” At least that’s how it’s felt to me.

It’s been a dark, cold and snowy and seemingly never-ending winter here in Toronto, but this week we’ve had a few warm, sunny days and brilliant blue skies. It’s a perfect time to walk around the neighbourhood to search for signs of spring. In my garden I can see daffodils poking their way through a mulch of leaves, while the blooms on my ‘Primavera’ witch hazel brighten up the fenceline.img_26552

I walk around the corner in search of crocuses and snowdrops with no success, but notice that buds are fattening up on shrubs and some ground-covering sedum is showing its first signs of life.

img_2664img_26611When the weather is like this, gardeners itch to get out there and start the cleanup. Please resist. It’s much too early to rake off that mulch–winter ain’t done yet and you could give your plants a nasty, cold shock. It’s best to wait until the weather really settles down and warms up to stay.

Next: Adventures in Arizona

Repotting my amaryllis

I'm going to re-pot my amaryllis bulb (which has been in a dark room in a basement since last winter). I took a look at an article from the archive, and then asked Anne Marie if she has any recommendations for repotting. Here is what she had to say:

  • Repotting is fine in the late fall. The bulbs should have been dormant long enough by now so that the flower buds have formed.
  • Use a good sterilized houseplant soil and just move the bulb into a pot that is slightly larger. Amaryllis like to be in a small pot for their size (and often are top heavy because of this).
  • Clean off the old soil from the bulb roots and replant it so that ½ to ¼ of the bulb is showing above the soil. Firm the soil and water well.
  • Once a flower bud or leaves start to show, give it a diluted half-strength fertilizer application every week.
  • For reblooming bulbs, many times the leaves will grow first instead of the flower stalk. Move the bulb to a warm, bright location and enjoy.

Last year my sister’s amaryllis had three huge blooms while my bulb grew a sorry-looking little shoot. My hope is that mine measures up this year.

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