At this time in the gardening year, I’m feeling a little pleased with myself. I’ve planned ahead and have stuff blooming. If you are bitten hard by the gardening bug, eventually you take on the fun challenge of stretching the bloom season. To get the earliest start, that means discovering the world of spring bulbs and flowers. Nearly everyone knows about daffodils and tulips, but there are lots of things that bloom earlier. Some are little perennial wildflowers such as bloodwort and Pasqueflowers. If you really want tons of color, go for the wee bulbs: crocus, snowdrops, iris reticulata, muscari, scilla. Planted in the right spot, snowdrops are the earliest to show. In a good year, the crocus bloom in late March. In fair years, they’re around by April 10th. We won’t talk about the bad years.
The dwarf irises are not far behind, followed by the bloodwort (Sanguinaria canadensis.) The iris (I. reticulata) come in shades of purple and blue, as well as one yellow type, I. danfordiae. I find the iris don’t reliably come back year after year, so plant yearly for the best results. The bloodwort has the purest, star-like flowers often visited by early pollinators. They will gradually increase and are easily dug up and split in the late spring or fall.
The tulip season can start early, too, with the sweet faces of the species types. T. humilis ‘Persian Pearl’ also has a light scent that on warmer days drifts up and makes me sigh. I plant T. bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ with the ‘Hawera’ daffs: both are about 7-8” and bloom at the same time.
The muscari genus is full of small blue, white or purple varieties. I currently have just one, ‘Valerie Finnis’ named after a prominent English gardener. They’ve actually increased for me, and are happy to be split to add their cool blue to other parts of the garden. One of the later-but-still-early bulbs is Frittilary meleagris, or the checkered lily. It’s super easy to grow and a good reason to bring out the magnifying glass.
Take a look in your garden now: I bet it’s full of spots you can fill in with these charming balms to winter’s long grip. Just put a note in your calendar for mid-July to order, and spend a beautiful fall day planting color.