Gardeners often would like blue flowers to go with azaleas, and I am fairly horrified that when the Spanish scilla blooms then, so many people ask me what it is.
I grew up calling it Scilla campanulata and now the name is Endymion hispanicus, but whatever the botanists call it in their interminable messing about with names to see how much trouble and confusion they can cause persons who deal with the real world, it is a lovely flower and as foolproof as any plant can be.
You plant it now, the bulbs are available in blue, rose and white at garden centers or from catalogues of bulb dealers. The blue is best. The one called 'Excelsior' is the best I have run across, though nowadays (when dealers think one thing is good as another) you may have to settle for just the color blue and forget the particular variety.
I do not know how long the bulbs last outdoors -- I know they last for decades and possibly forever. Nothing bothers them. They take any exposure from full sun to medium woodland shade. They are handsome with early garden irises or kurume azaleas. The Spanish bluebell or scilla is not to be confused with the Siberian squill, which blooms earlier in an intense electric tone of gentian blue. But the Spanish squills are nearer sky blue, a bit of lavender in them, and the dozen or so bells (rather like hyacinths) are borne on somewhat curving stems about a foot high.
They multiply to form fat clumps, but do not seed about, staying where you put them. This is an old plant in gardens and should be in all, I would think.
The main fault of the flower is lack of fragrance. For gardeners who are forever cutting things, this scilla does well in tall wine glasses with a few sprigs of yew, and the clumps soon grow dense enough, with dozens of flower stalks, that half of them may be cut without notice.
Another minor bulb not quite so obliging (but very beautiful) is the chionodoxa in several varieties. They grow admirably in full sun or light shade, but are not so happy where dense leaf-fall covers them. They struggle up through the leaves, but are better in more open places, blooming at the end of March or early April on stems 6 inches high. Planted thickly they make a fine show, even if you have only one patch of them. C. sardensis is possibly the most brilliant deep neon blue, while C. luciliae seems best at sowing its seeds about -- sometimes forming large colonies -- and C. gigantea (not all that much larger than the others) is notable for nickel- to quarter-sized individual blooms, borne several to the stem in a clear pretty tone of sky-lavender with white center. All of them follow the snowdrops and precede the Spanish scillas. They are good for providing strong contrast with crocuses.
We are not talking of rarities here -- you can get a good many of these small bulbs for the price of a hamburger, and once planted (the bulbs) you have them indefinitely.
Recently in a garden center I was disappointed to see so many bulbs of the tulip 'Jewel of Spring' still unsold, despite clear and firm orders that you go out and get some. The power of the press is much exaggerated. I wish every gardener would try a few of these primrose-yellow tall tulips, usually at their best around April 20, and see how glorious they are and how well-behaved in the garden, coming up without any attention year after year.
This variety is one of the Darwin Hybrids, a relatively new breed of tulip resulting from crosses of the Darwin types and T. fosteriana, the gorgeous wild creature from Asia Minor best known in gardens from its clone, 'Red Emperor.'
The Darwin Hybrids gained fine constitutions from the wildling, and while the color range is limited, that is no drawback if you want soft yellow. Over the years I have grown a good many of the Darwin Hybrids, all agreeable and many of them brilliant in scarlet, orange and rich blends, but 'Jewel of Spring' pleased me best and I commend it to you. Which really is like recommending roast beef as more delicious than porridge.
I have noticed callas (the tubers) for sale now at slightly more than a dollar each, a good price these days, even for smallish ones. If you get them you must grow them indoors this winter; you cannot expect them to be hardy outdoors, but you can plant them out in April, digging them up for storage over winter.
Two plants I intend to leave outdoors this winter are the creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and the night jas- mine (Cestrum nocturnum). Neither is reliably hardy. I have the creeping fig, a vine notable for its close clinging to masonry and tiny leaves, in a western exposure and have set ordinary bricks over the area occupied by its roots. After a hard freeze or two I shall give it a 6-inch mulch of dry leaves and hope for the best.
I have had it outdoors for 10 years or so in an eastern exposure with heavy shade, and it dies almost to the ground and by the time it gets going again it's winter again. So I hope a bit more sun will suit it. If it dies outright, I shall not feel cheated, however, since we are a bit far north for it.
The night jasmine is easy to root in a jar of water. You make cuttings from the tips of the branches, about 6 to 10 inches long and just let them stand in the water until May, then plant them out. (They will be strongly rooted.) The only trouble with this is that it's mid-July before they start growing vigorously, so you never get really large plants -- with me they only reach 2 or 3 feet, and I prefer them 4 or 5 feet. With me they only start blooming towards mid-September and with cool nights you do not get the intense airborne fragrance that is the main point of growing them.
If a heavy mulch will keep the old woody stems alive, at least for the first few inches above the ground, then they should make quite large plants the second year, especially when given a mulch of manure in May and a lot of water all summer. The whole plant can, of course, be put in a large pot or tub and kept indoors for the winter and set out for the summer. The trouble most of us have is houses too small to accommodate bushes all over the bedroom.