Earthman was last seen in his mud shoes trudging toward his garden, muttering about weeds, dogs and goldfish, and defying the skies to open up while he was out. Until he returns, here is an earlier column worthy of perennial interest.
FROM THE END of February to the middle of April there is not a vast amount of bloom in the averge garden, and the chief reason for this is a general distrust of things too good to be true. People think, well, if God meant the garden to be a blast of purple and gold in the winter, then it would already be that way. We are talking about February now, mind you, because the bulbs that bloom then must be planted now.
Nothing -- let us be perfectly clear about this -- is going to make the late winter garden look like a tropical greenhouse, not matter who plants what.
Instead, it is only because of the bleakness of the season that one is delighted to see any flowers at all, and it is safe to say that one square foot or crocuses in February is worth 10 rose bushes in May.
If the gardener has an ordinary small garden (which nowadays means anything from something the size of a bathroom or pantry up to 50 by 100 feet, and anything larger is likely to be thought a large garden, at least in cities) the question arises which bulbs will best brighten the ungenial day, so to speak, for the least money and trouble.
There are many rare things, but we will not speak of them, beyond the observation that it is shocking not to be able to find Helleborus corsicus and Arum italicum pictum , herbaceous plants of wonderful green interest in bleak times. Getting back to color -- flowers that bloom in winter (this may be the time to mention that winter continues through most of March) and which in my opinion are best worth growing, of the things I have tried, please considre these:
Galanthus nivalis . This is the common snowdrop, which starts blooming in January and in Washington is at its best in February. The bulbs are small and dry out.
They should, therefore, be planted immediately. All these small bulbs are planted with a couple of inches of earth over the tops of them, and all of them may be planted this very day, or as soon as you see them for sale at plant centers, hardware stores, etc.
The snowdrop has thimble-sized bells with things like hound ears hanging down. White with a touch of green. The best way to establish snowdrops is to move the clumps in March, in full growth, but that is not much help since you can't buy them that way. You have to settle for the dried off bulbs in September, and then wait a few years for them to thicken up into fat clumps. It is best, if you can manage it, to set the bulbs three inches apart in patches of perhaps 50 bulbs.
Anemone blanda . This is the Greek wild anemone, much fiddled with by the Dutch who have developed a number of attractive forms. The "best" is the deeper-than-sky-blue one called atrocoelurea or ingramii .
Fortunately it is what you are likely to get if you acquire the plain A. blanda . There are other varieties with names like "The Bride," which is white. One called "Radar" is a smoldering magenta that I always knew I would not like, but which I planted a few of anyway on the grounds that we should stretch our minds and our appreciation -- much as one persists with music one does not like, hoping for some sunburst of illumination eventually.
"Radar," as it turned out, was a whopping joy, when it bloomed. Magenta, yes, and surprisingly fiery and vibrant. I confidently suggest the gardener try even six bulbs of it in a tiny clump with blue forms, since it adds a great deal of richness. These anemones bloom in March and on into April.
Scilla. These are quite different from one another, depending on which scilla is being considered. S. tubergeniana , which blooms early in February, is milky white or vaguely blue. It is not very showy, but lasts in bloom several weeks and I would not like to be with out it.
Scilla sibirica , which does not bloom until March, is piercing deep blue as if it had chemicals or electricity in it. It grows perhaps five inches high, like S. tubergeniana , but the individual flowers, which hang down like small flaring bells, three or six or so on the stem, are the size of a nickel. The form called "Spring Beauty" is sterile and does not seed about, but this disadvantage is offset by its lasting a few days longer in bloom, and having somewhat larger blooms. This scilla is strong enough in its color to go well with deep yellow early daffodils. It makes most delicate pastel colors look somewhat washed out. That never bothers me, but it might alarm some gardeners.
Before the planting season is done, we must think of small bulbs; but in case you see them before then, you are wise, I think, to acquire a few of these: Iris histroides, I. reticulata , "Joyce" and "Harmony" plus I. danfordiae ; any of the chionodoxes, Crocus tomasinianus , "Ruby Giant," C. crysanthus varieties and most muscari . Many of all these were described in last week's article.