THE GARDENER who is not careful will wind up with a blaze of glory in the spring.
There is nothing wrong with that, provided the gardener really wants it that way, and does not mind rather dingy summers, falls and winters.
There are plenty of gardeners who think it reasonable to give every inch to the daffodil, the iris, the daylily, the chrysanthemum, and when their favorite flower is not in bloom, no matter. They fantasize in their heads, study dealers' lists, reread the handful of books about their favorite, sacred books to them, and in the daytime they study labels and at night their dreams are full of varietal lists.
Such people cannot be changed and there is no reason to change them.
But I do notice that some gardeners merely fall into spring.
They buy a tree, a few shrubs, a few bulbs, the first fall they acquire a garden, and then willy-nilly keep adding more of the same, and the result is a lot of spring flowers and very little the rest of the year.
This is partly because they are quite vague when different flowers bloom, and of course if you are not at all sure, then it is hard to plan for the month of, say, August.
Now the farm tradition of America has led many otherwise sensible people to suppose that in March you start digging around and in April you plant your crops (marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums) and toward Labor Day you close down for the year, spending the fall raking leaves and the winter chopping wood.
There is nothing wrong with that particular rhythm, either, again provided it's all you truly want.
People, all of us, are marvelously satisfied with very little.
But it often occurs to a gardener there can be flowers all year.
In reality, there cannot be, not in Washington, which has temperatures every winter down to 7 degrees above zero. Roughly. Very, very roughly, and the older you get the rougher they seem.
At my place crocuses and witch hazel began blooming Jan. 15, but that hardly means there were flowers all over the place in January. To me it is a dandy thing to find a flower here and there in January, but it is false to suggest winter flowers are going to produce any detectable patches of color.
Except that March, of course, is a winter month, and there are plenty of March flowers -- the earliest daffodils, the snowdrops (often in February) and in general the early "minor" bulbs that brighten the world in a major way.
But in general there is little floral color in winter, and the gardener relies on hollies, yaws and other evergreens -- among which there is a whole range of greens, bronzes, rose-lavenders (as in several junipers), deep somber reds (as in bergenias and leucothoes) and yellowish tones (as in assorted golden conifers) or glaucous blues.
The first considerable burst of color comes in late February or early March with crocuses and small bulbs, and these must be planted freely if they are to make any show. Several hundred corms of wild crocuses will start things off, and it is better to group all these early flowering creatures within sight of each other, rather than sprinkle them here and there about the garden. A clot of several hundred crocuses and snowdrops is showier, obviously, than a lone crocus back by the rose bed.
The next great burst of color is provided by daffodils and early tulips such as the vermilion "Red Emperor." These are reliable for early April. Among the thousands of named varieties of daffodil, there is room for endless choice. "Ceylon" is perhaps my favorite daffodil for its gaudy (yellow and scarlet-orange) brightness, its excellent garden constitution (freedom from rot, etc.), its superior substance that permits a good-sized clump to show color for a month.
But over the years I have grown daffodils of no particular reputation and often discovered wonderful things among them -- for example, "Easter Morn," which is a white small-cup bred in the early part of the century; "Manchu," a large-cup with odd buffy-salmon-orange-tawny cup, and so on and on.
I always liked "Mulatto" and "tintoretto" among the trumpets, for their fairly indescribable color and scent. But these are by no means the great daffodils; they are merely agreeable flowers to swell out the chorus, as you might say.
Beginners always do well to buy one bulb of a variety. In three or four years it will have made a nice clump. Bulbs are best purchased from specialist dealers who offer much greater variety than general nurserymen or garden centers. But I must not get off on daffodils in these notes which are primarily about when different things bloom.
By late April we are in a sea of tulips. They begin early in the month with wild sorts from the Near East and Central Asia.
They are followed by Triumphs, and Hybrid Darwins and then the general tide of Darwins, Cottage, Breeder sorts. The latest flowering tulip I can think of is "Orange Parrot" which blooms with the first flush of garden irises.
Irises come about May 10 and last a month. Among the thousands of kinds raised, and optimistically named and introduced into commerce, there are probably 500 actually obtainable from various specialists and dealers. The beginner can do far worse than buy an assortment of the cheapest, in perhaps 20 colors, either from dealers or the local Iris Society sale, though it is safer and better to start with a collection of the cheapest named varieties from a specialist.
Peonies begin with the irises. First come the hybrids like "Chocolate Soldier" and "Red Charm" followed in a few days by such splendid old work-horses (such glorious flowers) as the pink "Mons. Jules Elie," now almost 100 years old. These irises and peonies last into June.
Roses start about May 10 and by late May are in a general explosion of color.The hybrid tea climbers bloom early, two weeks before the heavily pruned bush varieties of the same sort.
Gardeners who cannot get enough gaud are reminded that the iris-peony-rose season is the most spectacular time of the gardening year. Such climbing roses as "Mme. Gregoire Staechelin," pink, bloom with the early irises and peonies, but then most of the hybrid tea climbers come on within a week after her.
By mid-June the daylilies have started, with such kinds as "Lady Bountiful" and "Emily Brown," but the main burst of daylily color is the first three weeks in July. Specialists indicate in their lists which sorts bloom early or late in the season. By August daylilies are tapering off, though it is possible, of course, to concentrate on the ones that bloom later than the main season.
Such annuals as zinnias, petunias and the like are leliable in July, August and September. If I had the space, I'd devote a large well-manured bed to giant zinnias planted outdoors directly where they are to bloom, planting the seeds in early May. They would reach their peak in August.
It is unreasonable to expect any flower -- even zinnians, marigolds, petunias -- to be at a peak of bloom month after month. Petunias can be trimmed back when they get leggy and weary and will revive for the late summer. Marigolds are as non-stop as anything once they get going. All these ordinary annuals are good from July on.
The gladiolus starts up in early July and, depending on variety (some take longer to bloom after planting than others, and their seasons are indicated in specialists' lists), continue (from different corms, of course) into October.
Sometimes gardeners new to the game are deceived by such a statement about blooming time length:
Daffodils, tulips, lilies, gladioli, all produce some flower from a bulb and its last a few days, and that's that for the year. When one reads that daffodils last six weeks in Washington, this means that each flower (left uncut on the plant outdoors) last from four to 21 days, but some bulbs bloom earlier in the season than others, so the end of the last daffodil flowers from late varieties will be 45 days after the first blooms of early varieties. It does not mean that any one daffodil variety will bloom week after week. The same is true with these other flowers. To get a long season, you need numerous individual plants, some blooming early, some midseason and some late.
Lilies reach their peak about July 1. Regals and madonnas bloom in early June, the hugh hybride trumpets in late June or early July, and the auratum and speciosum types in mid-July.
Dihlias bloom from July on. There are different ways of managing them. Some are just for mass display and are allowed to bloom as soon they will. Others are kept disbudded to bloom in August.
Chrysanthemums bloom from late September into November. There are endless kinds, early and late, and they can be treated different ways. The cushion types (mounds of flowers like bushel baskets) are fine for mid-October. I have one ratty little sort I greatly esteem that reaches its peak about Thanksgiving.
So much for the main "flowers" as gardeners think of them, but of course other shrubs besides roses are flowers, too. In Washington the main blast comes with azaleas, and the main show from azaleas comes from the widely planted Kurume varieties, which begin to flower April 15.
It can be helpful to keep the general timetable in mind, assuming you like flowers all through the warm months, so you can save space for late-blooming flowers and don't give it all to the ones that bloom in April.