Sunday, November 15, 2015

Small is Gorgeous

One of the disadvantages of working in a nursery is that plants jump into your car. It’s a proven fact that a plantaholic working in a nursery will face temptation every moment of every day, although you would think that with the season is coming to an end, there would be fewer and fewer renegades stowing away for the trip to my garden. You would be greatly mistaken. Just today a few stalwart cabbages and a kale or two snuggled into my trunk, as did a bag full of alliums. I know I wrote about bulbs last week, but the ode to tulips was a soul song. Today I want to talk about some of the smaller and less well know bulbs that also desire a place in any decent gardener’s repertoire, and which are tugging at my heartstrings and demanding that I take them home. Immediately.

I don’t understand why more people don’t plant bulbs. Dollar for dollar there is no way to make a greater impact in your garden -- except perhaps with grass seed. Bulbs are transformative and for under $50 (the average price of one three gallon hydrangea) you can add a huge bang of color to any garden. Sun or shade, there’s a bulb for you, most of which are also stupidly easy to plant and to grow.

We all know how easy daffodils are, and even if you don’t like yellow -- which is silly, as it gives warmth to even the most hideous of overcast and gray days  -- there are a ridiculous number of elegant white choices available for sale (and sometimes even found on sale) at all the nurseries selling bulbs. I challenge you to plant a handful of the double White Lions or the gardenia flowered Obdams in your garden this fall and not become an addict like myself. Nine in a tall plain glass vase fill any room with the promise of spring, the scent of new beginnings and a feeling of joy.

I think it’s because we are a culture of instant gratification, and there is less and less cause for imagination in the world, that people don’t plant bulbs. How else could anyone choose to ignore a small smooth orb that has everything it needs within itself to make beauty? I wish we weren't a people who only recognize beauty when it is thrust, fully in bloom, into our arms, but I shall persevere. I shall grab the sleeve of each and every gardening soul who happens to wander past the Marders Bulb Display, and fill their ears with stories of the wonders they are missing.  And I shall not only be pushing the expected daffodils and tulips. I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for those unsuspecting gardeners who walk into my liar.

First I will tempt them with Chionodoxa, a short little bulb, that when happy, not only repeats year after year, but spreads by producing little offshoot bulbils as well as by self-seeding and basically throwing itself throughout the garden with gentle, wanton abandon. A lovely trait in any plant, but especially appreciated by a girl who has a thing for tulips with their dearth of repetitive success. Chionodoxa is also known as glory of the snow as it is one of the first flowers to lift its tiny face to the sun, normally right after crocus, last years plant of choice for my small bulbs indulgence. This year, this harbinger of the spring is something I have decided to invest in by the handfuls. I truly dislike winter, gray skies and the cold, so the upward facing flowers of blue seem like just the thing I need to beat back interminably bleak and chilly days. I have chosen to plant Blue Giant as who doesn’t want a carpet of blue to erupt each spring. Chionodoxa is also deer resistant, a lovely treat and a phrase that I unfortunately say less as less often out here. 

Not to be confused with Scilla or Siberian squill, Chionodoxa Blue Giant is a bigger flower, but the blue of Scilla is a truer blue color and delicately lovely. Scilla is also deer resistant and it too is a wanton and welcome invader of the flowerbed -- but I am a sucker for Chionodoxa’s slightly larger and taller flowers. Next year I plan on investing in Scilla -- as it also blooms at approximately the same time (I’m planning on a carpet of these beauties as well, but a girl’s budget needs to be managed just a little bit.) Scilla aficionados tell me that they think the flowers of Scilla last longer so I shall report to you all after they both come up in the spring of 2017, but if you want to compare, the trick to being able to tell the two bulbs apart when they bloom is that squill is a littler shyer, with it’s flowers nodding in downward facing tranquility, while glory of the snow faces the sun. And both mix perfectly with the littlest of the daffodils we have left at Marders, the Tete a Tetes – all the more reason why a bag or two might wiggle it’s way under my passenger seat this week.

Next I shall dangle a package of Muscari under the nose of the curious gardener and extol the virtue of a tiny bouquet of what look like miniscule bunches of grapes attached to a wand of green. Grape hyacinths also claim a fold of my heart, again for the clear blue color the classic, old-fashioned ones bring to a garden, but I’d be lying if I told you those are the only ones I long for. I have to confess that last year when I got help planting my crop of tulips, I’m afraid I lost a few key patches to over enthusiastic diggers. So soon I must buy more. But really this is to only way I have lost them in my garden. I’ve heard tell that they are getting eaten by deer, but I’ve actually not even seen that happen on my own, or in any of my client’s gardens so I’d love to hear from some of you readers in more heavily browsed areas.

And if by now, the poor trapped gardening soul I’ve been speaking with has not grabbed a few bags of bulbs and bolted for the safety of Brittany and Brian at the register, I shall proffer a handful of Fritillaria meleagris to my hypnotized prey. If anyone wants proof of magic in the world, let them grow a checked Snake's Head Fritillary and inspect its elegant petals’ pink, purple, mauve, green and white checkerboard patterns. How does a flower come to have this delicate etching of mathematical precision? Why would a checkerboard, a grid, be something that would evolve in nature? It’s mind-boggling. Especially since the Fritillaria is a bulb that not only tolerates clay soil, but relishes it. A bulb that likes damp feet? What’s not to love? The trick is to figure out what to plant it with. In England they plant them in grassy meadows but with ticks so rampant out here the wild meadow is not as often requested for the garden tableau as it once was. I long to plant this checkered beauty among my more sun tolerant hellebores, and perhaps shall sneak a few among my Chionodoxa this fall. Gosh a girl can dream.

Paige Patterson buys the bulbs for Marders -- which is bit like letting a shopaholic organize the shoe racks at Bergdorf’s but so far it’s working out okay.