HOME GARDEN shops have been late receiving their bulbs for fall planting, and I was alarmed to hear one gardener announce that if his daffodils could not be planted in September, he would not plant any.
Actually, the local daffodil society usually plants its bulbs in October. I prefer September, since early planting gives the bulbs more time to root, but I have planted daffodils as late as february and (I blush to say it) March with success.
Simply plant daffodils and crocuses, scillas, snowdrops, winter aconites as soon as you can get them.
Hyacinths, in my experience, are best planted the middle of October, and tulips of all kinds in November.
Washington is one of those places you can find the early blooming bulbons irises that brighten March. They are utterly different from the tall bearded sorts that bloom in May. This year the little bulbs of Iris danfordiae (sharp canary yellow with a few green dots in the throat) and blue forms of Iris reticulata look fine. The purple form of I. reticulata is more fragrant than any of the others.
All of them bloom before the early daffodils. The yellow one flowers for a year of two, then forms many small bulbs too small to bloom. It these are grown on, they flower in a couple of years.The purple and blue forms sometimes - not always - settle down and bloom year after year without attention.
They are all desirable and, to me, indispensable.
They stores also sell the late April or early May-blooming bulbs of the Dutch iris. These are the ones you see in florist shops in spring, forces for the cutflower trade. They have stems about 18 inches high and are astonishing in beauty, but I do not value them anything like the March-blooming reticulata types.
Let me urges any gardener who does not already grow them to try as many of the small tulips as he can possibly manage. I have not said much about the hybrids of Tulipa kauffmanniana. The parent species is well known to old timers as the waterlily tulip. It blooms in March on short stems, possibly four inches high, and spreads its petals in the sun. It is white, the outside of the petals flushed rosy. Like other tulips it closes at night, so the gardener sometimes see it open flat and white and sometimes (on cold days) comical and white flushed rose.
Quite apart from this tulip, there are many sorts that resemble it, blooming a few days later, only more brightly colored.
I always look forward to the patches of these tulips blooming so early in the year at the corner of the National Geographic lot at 17th and M Streets NW.
Another wonderful group of tulips blooming in late March is descended from the vermilion wild tulip. T fosteriana "Red Emperor" is simply a selection from the wild - it is not a garden hybrid - and may remind gardeners how beautiful some of the wild species are, without the slightest "improvement" by plant breeders.
I noticed especially fine bulbs of T. f. princeps this year.
This is like "Red Emporer" but not quite so large. The many hybrids include such reds as "dover" and the extremely desirable yellow form often called "Yellow Empress" and the white form called "Purissiam" or "White Emporer." The yellow and white ones last five years or longer in the garden, and where it is happy (a sum-baked spot not, irrigated all summer) the red ones also last for many years.
A few of these in small clumps (three bulbs, say) of each colors are showy among daffodils. The red ones bloom a few days earlier than the yellow and white.
All these tulips may be planted in November, or even up until Christmas. Ideally, let's say Nov. 11.
I am a great believer in planting at least a handful of these early flowering bulbs where passerby can see them. Sometimes gardeners forget the great number of people who have no gardens. Even three or four brilliant tulips, a handful of crocuses and so on, give pleasure to people walking by.
For several years I had a few of the big crocuses in rich purple and yellow growing almost at the sidewalk, with the idea that toddlers and persons in strollers could pick one without any harm.
It surprises me how few are picked. The huge one called "Purpurea Grandiflora" is a far greater favorite. I notice, that the even showier "Dutch Mammoth," a big yellow. Somehow I thought children would like the bright gold more than the rich violet, but for several years now it is the purple they like best.
But the point I urge is that gardeners spare a few inches and a few cents to get a few flowers right on front. They need not be so many as to destroy the general dullness so much admired in front of houses.
My retired sea-going friend had a burst of patriotism a while back and planted "red, white and blue" crocuses out front.
The red crocuses are not very red, and the blue ones are not very blue, but I took forward ot them every year. There are only a few and they cannot even be seen from his house, but I see many people as well as myself pause a few seconds to admire them each spring.