Spring Bulb Misc

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Sun, 27 Apr 2008 15:25:37 PDT
Iris stolonifera began to bloom yesterday when the day time high was over 80
degrees F. Some tall forms of Iris hoogiana should bloom on the next sunny
days. We have had many days over 80 degrees F already, and as a result lots
of plants have rushed into bloom. Many tree peonies are already in full
bloom - in fact, the earliest ones have already dropped all of their petals;
others have not yet started. The tulips we traditionally think of as
May-flowering tulips are already in bloom and passing. Double late tulips do
not last long in the heat. In the bulb frames, the general foliage color is
passing to sickly greens and yellows: some have died down for the year
already. For instance, the frits of the Rhinopetalum group are quitting for
the year. 

A cold front came through with rain overnight, and today it is about 30
degrees colder and wet. The second half of April here is dryer and often
much warmer than you would think is typical for April. May on the other hand
tends to be wetter and cooler - an effect made more pronounced with the
leafing out of deciduous trees. 

The comparatively wetter conditions in May are one of the several
complications in growing bulbs here: it would be much better if the bulbs
matured into dry conditions. As May progresses, it gets hotter, too: hot,
damp soil are not good bulb maturing conditions. 

Here's my take on juno irises under my conditions: some are tricky, but
there are plenty of easy ones. Junos received under the names magnifica,
vicaria, rosenbachiana, aucheri, zenaidae, bucharica, orchioides are all
easy as long is they have dry summer conditions. Winters here are generally
cold enough to obviate the foliage disease problems reported in other areas.

I suspect that the bad reputation they have is largely due to the influence
of the literature: junos can be difficult under British conditions for
instance, and generations of American gardeners have turned to Britain for

There are plants which I have trouble with here, plants I have not yet
figured out how to grow, but the juno irises common and inexpensive in
commerce are not among them. I've never tried Iris planifolia (I suspect
that I would have no trouble with it in my protected cold frame). Nor have I
had success with the members of what I'll broadly call the persica group.
But for anyone in a similar climate who wants to add a new dimension to
their iris patch, there are plenty of easy junos to try.

Fritillaria biflora forms shot up into bloom last week. The scapes suddenly
elongated and the flower buds suddenly started to grow and open. F. recurva
is also in bloom: I should be very happy about this, but this plant somehow
does not seem to be taking to life in Maryland well. 

Arum cyrenaicum is in bloom also now. I received this under this name and
also as A. korolkowii. These both have the protection of cold frames (one
protected, one out in the open); I have no idea how well the winter growing
foliage would fare in the open. 

I momentarily bristled when I read Jane McGary's report that Arum italicum
is thought of as a trash plant in her area. But of course location is
everything in gardening, and here in zone 7 Maryland somebody else's trash
is a cherished element of the winter garden. In most local gardens it's the
only link to the genus Arum, because many other winter growing species are
not reliably hardy in the open garden over time. In the mountains of Chile,
Tecophilaea is evidently little better than trash to the local livestock

As I mature as a gardener, I'm still trying hard to learn to genuinely
appreciate what I already have and to cut back on the seemingly insatiable
acquisition and preoccupation with plants really better suited to other
climates. [One or two of you will soon be receiving orders which will
suggest that my resolve in these matters is less than firm; please be
professional about this and keep it to yourself.] But like so many of you, I
have to kill it myself to be convinced. 

The view from our front door is of three Magnolia stellata in their early
maturity; these are underplanted with broad masses of Helleborus foetidus.
This is my favorite hellebore, and it's another plant widely regarded as a
trash plant. I have no idea what people make of my garden: beside the
abundant trash there are things such as Asphodelus acaulis, Hacquetia
epipactis, oncos, cyps and the "Jane McGary east" collection of obscure

It really is a garden where one man's trash is another man's treasure: and
depending on where your home garden is, you might have a hard time deciding
which is which.    

And while the Tecophilaea here are not likely to be grazed by cattle, they
might be nibbled by deer if I'm not careful. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where some Babiana, Freesia and African Ornithogalum are finally about to
bloom after being in growth all winter. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
BLOG! http://mcwort.blogspot.com/
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 
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