Garden Notes: The Bulbs of Spring

I was going to rake and mow the front lawn, but it just started raining. So instead I'm sitting in my tree fort (second floor back porch) and blogging again. Ordinarily a risky prospect, blogging in the rain, but it's a gentle summer shower instead of our usual thunderous downpours, and there's the slightest of breezes instead of the gales. And no hail this time. There's a male cardinal high in the neighbor's dogwood - brilliant red against the dark green summer foliage - cheeping and ruffling his feathers in the rain.

Of course, I'm thinking about February.

The spring bulbs! The spring bulb catalogs! How can I garden in the here and now when I already need to start worrying about how it will all look next year?

A couple of categories of bulbs I'm looking for to plant this fall for next year's gardens:
  • Heirloom/Antique, available before 1905.
  • Variegated foliage (I have a thing for freaks).
  • Native plants.
  • Shady path and border.
  • Cut flowers.

There are a handful of bulb vendors I've come to know and trust:

  • McClure & Zimmerman. My all-time favorite. Great selection. Mainly just a listing of varieties. The catalog has no color photographs, just a scattering of botanical illustrations. I've been ordering from them since pre-Web days; their Web site now provides color photographs. Unfortunately, I've already missed their 10% discount cutoff date of June 30.
  • Van Engelen. The "wholesale" catalog of John Scheepers, they offer the same varieties to retail customers, but with minimum quantities of 25, 50 and more. The best source when you want to consume mass quantities for large drifts, bedding schemes and other instant garden effects. Or team up with neighbors and friends and buy in bulk and divide the spoils amongst yourselves. I like to order from them for large amounts of the smaller bulbs, such as Crocus.
  • Old House Gardens. One of my new favorites. A small, "boutique" outfit specializing in heirloom and antique bulbs. Personalized service. Emphasizes U.S. sources where available. Offers many varieties available from no other source.

So, by researching their catalogs, I've come up with the following wish lists. Mind you, I have not the money, the time, nor the space to plant all of these. We'll see what I end up ordering, and planting.


  • Allium atropurpureum, introduced 1800.
  • Allium sphaerocephalon, introduced 1594.
  • Anemone nemorosa var. Robinsiniana, circa 1870, also suitable for the shady path and border.
  • Canna "Cleopatra", introduced 1895. Some leaves are striped with bronze, so it's one of those freaks I covet. I ordered some from Select Seeds this year, but I don't think it's what I got: I won't know for sure until they bloom, but the foliage shows no hint of bronze. Spring-planted. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Canna "Mme. Caseneuve", introduced 1902. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Crocus angustifolius, Cloth of Gold Crocus, introduced 1587. (Ordered from OHG
  • Dahlia "Kaiser Wilhelm" (Ordered from OHG)
  • Gladiolus byzantinus, aka G. communis var. byzantinus "Cruentus", Byzantine gladiolus, introduced 1629. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Gladiolus dalenii, aka G. psittacinus, G. natalensis, Parrot Glad, introduced 1830. Spring-planted, but hardy to zone 7, so it may winter over here. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Hyacinth "City of Haarlem", primrose-yellow, introduced 1893.
  • Hyacinth "King of the Blues", indigo-blue, introduced 1863.
  • Hyacinth "Lady Derby", rose-pink, introduced 1883.
  • Hyacinth "Marie", dark navy-purple, introduced 1860.
  • Hyacinth "Queen of the Blues", introduced 1870. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Lilium auratum platyphyllum, Gold-band Lily, introduced 1862.
  • Lilium martagon "Album", White Martagon Lily, introduced 1601.
  • Lilium pumilum, Coral Lily, introduced 1844, self-sows, so also suitable for the "wild" garden.
  • Lilium speciosum, introduced 1832.
  • Double Daffodil "Albus Poeticus Plenus, aka "Double Pheasant Eye", introduced pre-1861.
  • Double Daffodil "Double Campernelle", introduced prior to 1900.
  • Daffodil "Golden Spur", introduced 1885.
  • Trumpet Daffodil "King Alfred", introduced 1899.
  • Trumpet Daffodil "W. P. Milner", introduced 1869.
  • Double Late Tulip "Blue Flag", introduced 1750.
  • Tulip "Clara Butt", introduced 1889. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Tulipa clusiana, introduced 1607. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Double Early Tulip "Kreoskop" ("frizzy-head"), introduced 1830.
  • Double Early Tulip "Peach Blossom": Soft rose, honey scented, introduced 1890.
  • Single Late Tulip "Phillipe de Comines": maroon-black, claret, introduced 1891.
  • Single Early Tulip "Prince of Austria", scarlet maturing to almost-orange, fragrant, introduced 1860.
  • Single Early Tulip "Van der Neer", violet-purple, introduced 1860.


  • Multi-flowered Tulip "Antoinette": Pale lemon-yellow with pink edges, finishing salmon-pink, creamy-white margined foliage.
  • Double Late Tulip "Carnaval de Nice": White blooms with swirling deep red stripes, white-edged foliage.
  • Viridflora Tulip "China Town": Phlox pink with carmine-rose accents, moss-green flames, and a canary-yellow base, white-edged foliage.
  • Darwin Hybrid Tulip "Silverstream": Variable, creamy-yellow diffused with rose and red, pink-and-white-margined foliage. I've grown this variety before, and it's lovely.
  • Tulipa praestans "Unicum", flowers orange-red, white-edged foliage. I grew this in the East Village garden. It's very sweet, looking like a Hosta when the foliage first emerges.
  • Lilium superbum, American Turk's cap lily, introduced 1665, so also suitable for heirloom garden. (Ordered from OHG)
  • Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells, pink buds open to blue flowers, ephemeral, dying back for the summer. I don't that this is really a "bulb," but M&Z offers it in their catalog. I grew this in the wildflower section of the East Village garden, and it was always beautiful in the spring.
  • Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot. A native relative of the invasive Celandine. Yet another wildflower I grew in the East Village garden, but, if I recall, in its double-flowered form. It looked like a small white water-lily emerging from the earth just before the leaves. I'd really like to find the double again. Another non-bulb M&Z offering.
  • Cardiocrinum giganteum. Some day, I will have a place to grow this. I need to build my soil up for a few years, I think, before I try and tackle this monster.
  • Frtillaria meleagris var. alba, White-flowering Snake's Head Fritillary. I've grown both the regular species, and this variety. The species is lovely, the white, sublime.
While I've been typing out here on the porch, I've also been visited by Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and Monk Parakeets. Oh, and so-called "Rock Doves," ie: Pigeons, the rats with wings.

The sun is out now, and it's cooled off deliciously. Time to take the cat out for a walk and rake and mow the front lawn ...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the links! I just really wanted to say that I love the idea of you having a "tree house" in Brooklyn. :) Very cool.