Bulbs, for a change

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Tue, 20 Nov 2007 13:11:20 PST
Jim Waddick asked for inspiration. I’m not sure I can offer inspiration, but
I can offer some diversion. 

The transition from summer into fall this year has been one of the oddest
I’ve ever experienced. We went almost overnight from unseasonably (and long
continued) heat, humidity and drought to cloudy, unseasonably cool, rainy
days and nights. Early in the fall the leaf color was unremarkable, but now
at the end of November maples and oaks are putting on a glorious show. By
now we’ve had a killing freeze. The foliage in the top of the crepe myrtle
tree was killed before it colored this year, but the live foliage within the
canopy of the tree is slowly building up a bright glow. When the fall
foliage of this tree is in full color, it reflects a soft, warm red light
into the nearby rooms of the house. 

The freeze put an end to Tricyrtis in this neighborhood – most were caught
in full bloom. 

The crocus season continues, but the timing seems odd this year. Crocus
tournefortii has been in bloom for weeks, longer than any other autumnal
crocus here. As one flower fades, another appears to replace it. Crocus
cartwrightianus has also provided secondary blooms and a prolonged season.
Crocus longiflorus and C. medius are now finally blooming, and C.
oreocreticus has come in just as the last of the related C. asumaniae have
departed. Crocus thomasii continues to bloom very fragrantly, and a white
flowered form of Crocus pulchellus opened today. Some late planted Crocus
speciosus also are in bloom.   

This year the flower color of Crocus longiflorus is much darker and richer
than before – it’s very beautiful.  Crocus longiflorus is noted for its
scent; but its scent is nothing compared to the scent of Crocus
oreocreticus. The scent of Crocus oreocreticus reminds me of that of C.
thomasii but without the pronounced hyacinth quality of that species.  

Several other crocus have sprouts up at ground level (for instance C.
serotinus sorts), so the next few weeks also should be interesting. 

Scilla lingulata cilioliata is also blooming and putting up foliage. This is
a newly acquired plant from Jane McGary (the source over the years of most
of the crocus mentioned) and I’m not sure what to expect of it. It will
spend the winter in the protected cold frame. 

In late summer 2006 I received a small start of Iris iberica elegantissima
from Janis Ruksans. The plant grew well but in May of 2007, at about the
time I should have been putting on the covers for the summer, I got busy and
forgot to do so. Strong rains soaked the iris bed at that time; I put the
covers on immediately, but the damage was done. Several irises rotted,
including the terminal, large sprout of Iris iberica elegantissima. I
checked the plant several times during the summer, and was encouraged to
find that the rhizome still had solid parts behind the rotten tip. Then
sometime in the early fall new foliage began to emerge. The plant now has a
small but lively tuft of foliage above ground. Next year I’ll try not to be
so careless. 

Another lesson learned: once again I've done in, or almost done in, a plant
of Crocus variegatum. This one also came from Ruksans last year. It made
very good growth and entered summer dormancy seemingly in fine condition. I
checked it several times during the summer and had nothing but great
expectations. The last time I checked it, in late summer, I made a nasty
discovery: most of the corm had withered up. It had been kept as dry as I
can keep anything, so rot in the usual sense was not the culprit. Let's call
this "dry rot". The foot of the corm (in this case, only about a half inch
long)  was however still sound but flaccid, so I put it in a zip lock bag,
gave it a spritzing, and put the bag into the refrigerator. Over the next
few weeks, it firmed up. By now, a nice sprout has appeared. So I get
another chance with this one. But I'm really not sure how to avoid making
the same mistake again. 

Iris unguicularis bloomed in early November, just in time for me to brag a
bit at the early November meeting of our rock garden group. But there has
been no sign of flowers since. 

Oxalis purpurea ‘Garnet’, which emerged with green foliage weeks ago, has
finally turned purple (or whatever that color is).  

It intrigues me that each year Ian Young in his Scottish Rock Garden Club
Bulb Log reports early bloom (i.e. in the fall) from Narcissus cantabricus.
So far this species has shown no inclination here to bloom so early.

I’m still obsessing over how much water the fritillaries should have both
while in growth and while dormant. I have not been giving them enough while
they are in growth: I get good bulb growth but no increase. And I need to
finesse the summer moisture situation: this year I fried F. caucasicus,
although the others seem to be OK.

Several months ago a friend gave me a great rarity: a nice fat division from
her clump of Asphodelus acaulis. For now I’m growing this planted into the
ground but in the cold frame, although the plant from which mine was divided
has been growing outside here in the greater Washington, D.C. area for
several years. My plant has already produced several handsome small
rosettes, each made up of a dozen or so narrow bright green leaves. Will I
get to see the pink flowers next year? I’ve know about this plant since 1965
when I purchased a copy of Anna Griffith’s A Guide to Rock Garden Plants,
but I never expected to actually have it in my garden. I think this plant
ultimately came from Jane McGary. If you don’t know it, check the wiki: it’s
a real charmer, nothing like its tall relations:


 The garden here has long been in its "tight real estate" phase: there's
really no more room for new plants, but I continue to acquire them. In
response to this shortage of space, I'm trying something new this year.
Instead of giving each taxon its own container, I'm going to mix plants in
one container. And I have a method in this madness: each pot will contain
one ariod, one amaryllid, one liliaceous plant, one irid and so on. That
sort of combination should make for easy identification of the various
elements when the time comes to separate the bulbs. I'm going on the
assumption that plants of different families will not have precisely the
same nutritional requirements and thus not compete so strongly as closely
related plants might. 

I'm also toying with another outside the box idea: next year, after the
frits bloom, I might sow grass seed in their pots. The rapid growth of the
grass will help to take up excess moisture in the pots. After the grass gets
started and the frits begin to yellow off, I'll simply allow the pot to dry
completely and allow the grass to die. I might even burn the tuft of dry

Comments, anyone? 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the temperature
tomorrow is predicted to be close to 70º F
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/ 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/

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