Arranging a bulb display

Jane McGary
Tue, 24 Aug 2010 18:23:47 PDT
I'm now sorting out all the bulbs that I was growing in the frames 
that have been pictured in our newsletter once or twice, and 
wondering how to arrange them in the two long (40 by 7 feet) beds in 
the new bulb house. I plan to have one section devoted to fall 
bloomers, but beyond that I'm not sure. It makes sense to place the 
taller species toward the back from the center path (there will be 
stepping stones within the beds), and to have one part that is quite 
dry in summer and another that gets a little irrigation even when the 
bulbs are dormant. Because the bulbs will be directly in the prepared 
soil, not in pots, I need to keep very similar ones separated from 
one another so I can identify them if I need to lift some for 
whatever reason in the future. I'd like your opinions.

The last consideration suggests that each small area should contain 
groups of compatible but clearly different plants, such as a 
Fritillaria, a Muscari, a Crocus, an Alliumm and a bulbous Iris. This 
would result in a display similar to what I had in the frames, where 
the plants were grouped only by their moisture requirements, except 
for the crocuses, which I had to grow under wire mesh because of mice.

The other kind of arrangement is known as systematic, and it would 
mean putting all the members of a genus and then a family in one 
section. This might interest botanists, but I might find it rather 
boring, and it would also mean that similar species could easily 
become confused over time, in spite of permanent labels. Does this 
kind of arrangement appeal to you more than a naturalistic one, as 
described in the preceding paragraph?

It seems to me that it doesn't matter how close members of a genus 
are to one another, because even in a large bulb house of this kind, 
hybridization by insects is likely whether two species are 20 cm 
apart or 10 meters apart. I would think that the only way to prevent 
crossing is to hand-pollinate and protect each species. What do you 
find is true?

Another interesting way to arrange a collection is geographically, 
but this makes less sense than you might at first think. For 
instance, any mountainous country, or even Greek island, is likely to 
host plants in various habitats from seaside dunes, to rich meadows, 
to snowmelt screes. I have some idea of the habitats of my plants, 
but not all of them. I'd be inclined to combine snowmelt species such 
as Tecophilaea cyanocrocus, Lewisia brachycalyx, and Crocus sieberi, 
even though they come from three different continents. (The first two 
grew close together in the frame and were a lovely combination.)

The new home of the bulbs is close to the Portland city center, so I 
hope more people will get to see them when they are in flower, 
especially now that the greenhouse will shelter not only bulbs but 
also people from the rain. (Those who visited during the Winter Study 
Weekend will know what I mean -- they even endured hail!) What would 
most of them like to see -- a covered rock garden punctuated by a few 
rocks and some xeric cushion and mat plants, or a more scientific 
botanical display?

Comments very welcome,
Jane McGary

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