What follows bulbs

Shirley Meneice samclan@redshift.com
Sun, 15 Aug 2004 21:39:16 PDT
Fascinating response from someone who is used to the cemetary approach.  
I like the idea of the Begonias because, as we all know, the scruffy 
remnants of bulbs are scarcely attractive, yet I have put up with them 
for years and have tried for as many years to keep gardeners from 
chopping off the foliage until it is dormant.

Thanks for a new approach which I will try.
       Shirley Meneice

Jim McKenney wrote:

>At 03:33 PM 8/14/2004 -0700, Jane McGary wrote:
>>What plants -- ornamental or edible -- do others sow over their bulb beds?
>Before answering this question, let me make and emphasize a distinction
>which is very important in our climate. Bulbs here fall naturally into two
>groups: 1) those which survive and increase when left in the ground all
>year ("garden bulbs" in my view) and 2) all the others, hardy or tender.
>Sadly, the second group is the larger and includes many of the most
>interesting bulbs. 
>And another basic point: we all vary with respect to the degree of trouble
>to which we are willing to go. I took Jane's question to include an element
>of labor saving (but maybe that's not what she meant). Furthermore, I want
>a "natural" effect - maybe a ridiculous thing for a gardener to say, if
>only because gardeners are one of Nature's implacable enemies. What I mean
>by "natural effect" is a cycle of growth which imitates in some ways that
>of the natural world. Not for me those arrangements where the boy appears
>weekly to rip out the pansies - so "last week" -  and replace them with
>stocks - and so on all summer. Those who can afford that sort of thing
>should just cut to the quick and buy dozens of name-card holders and put
>those in their flower beds holding up the ultimate green manure of our
>culture, those pictures of dead presidents. Andrew Jackson's aquiline stare
>might even scare away some garden pests. 
>For the second group, whose most important member is the tulip, sowing or
>planting over the bulbs is not likely to produce good results unless you go
>to considerable expense or trouble. The bulbs have to be dug, and any
>companion plants are likely to suffer from the disturbance. 
>Tulips left in the ground start to rot in early June, so there is not much
>of a window for companion plants. Many of the plants traditionally
>recommended for this use are, in our climate, burn-out annuals, i.e. plants
>which are adapted to start under cold/cool conditions and which close up
>shop as soon as the hot, humid weather arrives. Typical examples are
>pansies, forget-me-nots, poppies in general, stocks, night-scented-stocks,
>Calendula, Nigella, larkspurs and so on. If you grow these over your bulbs,
>you will probably have to postpone digging the bulbs long enough to
>endanger the bulbs. These annuals do provide a secondary wave of color, and
>many gardeners do overplant with them. But to do so is to endanger the
>tulips - or to present yourself with the hard decision of choosing between
>the by then sere and perhaps dimly remembered tulips and a bed of six foot
>larkspurs in their full glory. In any case, by July you will be wishing you
>had planted something else - or at any rate looking for something to fill
>the gaps as the burn-out annuals slump. For those of you who don't mind, go
>for it!
>The sort of strict management which allows continuous color requires in our
>climate a sort of military rotation of the troops: as soon as each bit of
>color fades, new fresh troops are brought in to fight the battle. That
>means either that there are reserve beds whose developing plants serve to
>replenish the main display bed, or there are periodic and expensive trips
>to the local garden center. We all have to decide for ourselves whether the
>expense is worth the result. 
>Jane's question concerned plants suitable for growing over bulb beds - and
>I take that to mean beds where the dormant bulbs are still in residence.
>I've toyed with this question for years. It's a natural one for the bulbist
>because so many bulbs are summer dormant. In this garden, long experience
>has led me to certain practices which make sense and, although they involve
>compromises, give satisfying results. Initially, it seemed to make sense to
>try to combine vernal bulbs with late blooming perennials. Some such
>combinations do work, but a surprisingly large percentage of late blooming
>perennials make their presence known in the garden very early in the year.
>In other words, they are competing with the bulbs for space and light.
>Autumn anemones are a good example. If you do mix bulbs with non-bulbous
>perennials, group the bulbs; and group them in masses large enough that
>when they are dormant, you are left with a broad area for filling in with
>some bedding plant. This avoids the spotty look you'll get if the bulbs are
>scattered among other perennials. Many plants used as annuals always look
>like annuals no matter how you handle them. On the other hand, many will
>harmonize with perennials well if given room and if planted in sizable
>masses. Incidentally, the harmony I'm alluding to here is not color
>harmony, but rather harmony of growth form. The main problems with grouping
>annuals (or plants used as annuals)  and perennials seem to arise from
>their typically different growth cycles and rates. You'll soon learn that
>the shape of a burgeoning annual is protean.  
>So what's left if you want to overplant bulbs which are left in the ground?
>For that use, there is one plant which in my experience is superlative:
>Begonia grandis (B. evansiana). Why is this plant so much better than the
>many other plants which seem to fit the bill? The main advantage presented
>by the Begonia is that it is very late to start into growth. The bulbs -
>assuming they are vernal bulbs - grow and die down without a bit of
>competition from this plant. The Begonia starts to push up at about the
>time the bulb foliage is collapsing.  They are an ideal compliment. 
>The Begonia grows best in very bright light or partial sun; it's definitely
>less good in deep shade (although it is one of those plants generally
>cursed with the description "shade-tolerant"). In full sun, the Begonia
>foliage can burn a bit, but if anything such plants grow more vigorously.
>It has what it takes to take over chosen real estate: it's not weedy here,
>but it does stake out a claim and hold on to it. 
>The Begonia will be a presence in the garden until heavy frost or even
>after - the drying stems with their dangling seed capsules are not
>unattractive. Because of this prolonged season, it's not a good choice for
>use over autumnal Sternbergia, Colchicum, Crocus, Cyclamen or other low
>growing plants. It is ideal with daffodils, squills, hyacinths,
>ornithogalums and anything else which is up early and gets its business
>over with by late May or early June.
>Some of the Lycoris squamigera in the garden grow with the Begonia over
>them: it's a good combination, especially in those years when the first
>Begonia flowers are open with the Lycoris.
>That's my best candidate. 
>And I'm experimenting with others: for instance, there are bulb beds here
>which are covered with glass during the summer. Rather than look at bare
>dirt, I'm experimenting with hardy succulents. Presumably they need some
>moisture, but otherwise the dry, brightly lit conditions should suit them.
>Also, I have my eye on those purportedly hardy South African
>mesembryanthemaceous plants such as Delospermum. In my experience, these
>have not been reliable in the open garden. But maybe with the glass over
>them they will find conditions more to their liking. 
>What are others doing? 
>Jim McKenney
>Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where much of the garden is
>planted "old-world-cemetery" style, i.e. with the newcomers put in over the
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