TOW--Bulbs for Pacific Northwest Gardens

Ernie O'Byrne
Sun, 19 Jan 2003 14:59:06 PST
Mary Sue has asked me to introduce this week's topic, which I am calling Bulbs for Pacific Northwest Gardens. This is not to say that we can only discuss bulbs that do well here and nowhere else, but I would like to learn more about bulbs (or actually geophytes) that I may not be familiar with, or have not considered, that would likely do well, grown in the garden, in this wet cold climate. How wet and cold? Well, we get an average of 45-50 inches of rain a year, but a few years ago we had over 100. An average winter will bring temperatures in the mid-teens F., with unusual events hovering around 0 F.

When the freezes hit, things are usually saturated. We haven't had a really cold winter in some time such as we used to have. In those days, when it got cold, the cold usually hung around for several days to a week and the soil actually would freeze down several inches. Selfishly, I hope that what we are seeing lately is a trend, with the warmer temperatures. Of course, it is also bad news for much of the world's flora and fauna (including, probably, mankind).

It should also be understood that parts of the Pacific Northwest, such as much of the Seattle area and the islands to the west, and Vancouver, do not experience quite the extremes that we do here in our garden and also that parts experience much more in the way of extreme conditions than we do (such as Jane McGary's garden). So, we cannot paint all of the PNW with the same brush, but  let's talk generalities. What bulbs might be expected to grow in cold, wet winters, with either warm, dry summer conditions, or with added irrigation in summer.

What we do grow are the usual suspects such as many of the smaller bulbs, Chionodoxa, Anemones blanda, hortensis, pavonina and the hybrid between the latter two X fulgens, Galanthus, Narcissus (nothing particularly special), Cyclamen--mostly coum and hederifolium varieties, various Scilla such as siberica, scilloides, pushkinioides, peruviana, litardieri, autumnalis, as well as the thugs. We also do well with Erythronium revolutum, which is, happily, my favorite, less well with oregonum (we may water too much in summer to keep it happy). E. hendersonii, americanum, dens-canus and various hybrids also do quite well. I've never succeeded with grandiflorum or montanum, never actually succeeding in getting them large enough to plant out.

Quite a number of species lilies do just fine, including martagons, lankongense and macklinae. We've not had much luck with Nomocharis outside. They do just fine in pots and then, even when planted deeply, just seem to decline over a number of years. Fritillaria meleagris, persica, affinis, and some others do well.

But much of the above is planted in what I would call the woodland part of the garden, with a few exceptions. We do have a new dryland area that I am particularly interested in planting up with a number of bulbs and is the real reason that I was so eager to have this topic discussed. It receives no additional water, other than what nature brings, but does have a 3-6" gravel mulch. Part of it is over our native sandy loam, part is over 4-6" builders sand that I built the bed up with, and part is over some richer soil mix that we put over the native soil. The whole area is about 2000 square feet and what we have tried so far (this will be the fourth season for some of it and the second for the rest) are species tulips, which have been a disappointment in the main. I believe that they are either too wet in winter, or actually too wet in summer. I dug down at the end of August in an area that didn't have anything planted and the soil was actually moist under the gravel. I had planted the tulips in the native soil after hearing, I believe, Brian Mathew explain how bulbs from dry areas are often growing in clay and actually are protected from desiccation by being encased in a 'clay pot' with only a small area of the neck exposed to the elements. We have also planted quite a number of Fritillaria grown over the years from seed, but it is too early to know how they will do. I used Jack Elliott's Bulbs for the Rock Garden to get an idea of likely candidates. Various bulbous iris do well, as well as Sternbergia which absolutely loves those conditions and has multiplied into a generous swath. I would list the other species, but this "introduction" is too long already.

So, what other exciting bulbs are people growing, or have to suggest, for the garden in Pacific Northwest?

Ernie O'Byrne
Northwest Garden Nursery
86813 Central Road
Eugene OR 97402-9284
Phone: 541 935-3915
FAX: 541 935-0863
Eugene, Oregon is USDA Zone 8a on the map, but we can only grow Zone 7
plants reliably. Member of NARGS, SRGC, RHS, American Primula Society,
Meconopsis Group, Alpine-L, Arisaema-L, Hellebore Group

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we
arrive at that goal."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

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