All my fall-planted bulbs were safely in the ground by the first week of November, as I do not care for the trauma of planting them in February. A thing that happened once.
Still, through temperate America, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and so forth should be planted late rather than left unplanted, and good results are usually had if they get in the ground by Thanksgiving or, if you push me, Christmas.
In starting amaryllis bulbs into growth indoors all that is necessary is to water the pot moderately and set it in a sunny window. Sometimes, however, nothing much happens. In that case, I have found it helpful, especially in November and December, to set the pot atop the hot water heater in the basement.
Our hot water heater does not do all that much, and the top is no more than warmish. Needless to say, you want only very gentle bottom heat to inspire the roots of the amaryllis to get busy. If the heater (or any other heating device) is more than barely warm, you might try a saucer between the heat source and the bottom of the pot. Usually green growth is seen within the week and the pot should be brought to a south window.
Someone will say he doesn't have a south window. Well, do the best you can. The amaryllis is endlessly obliging. This year I got seven new bulbs, and there are a few old ones from previous years now in the basement. They will come upstairs in January, or earlier if I see signs of sprouting.
Something has happened to the crocus, 'Violet Queen,' a form of the wild Crocus sieberi. I always had a fine clump at the top of the slate steps leading to the front door, and the soft violet flowers with brilliant orange stamens always appeared by the end of January. The clump was moved and last year I had no flowers. So I bought a handful of bulbs at a garden center.
Over the years I have tried various early crocuses, including some that are supposed to be earlier than C. sieberi, but 'Violet Queen' has always been the first with me.
While planting a handful of pink daffodils last week I recalled an incident 25 years ago with 'Mrs. R. O. Backhouse,' one of the oldest of pink-cup varieties. I took against it, as its perianth petals are untidy and do not form a neat collar of waxy white to show off the cup. In November that year I realized I had not replanted poor old Mrs. Backhouse and in a cruel moment said nuts to her and left the bulbs atop the ground.
I felt bad the next spring when the bulbs all bloomed, with wretched stems and the roots reaching the earth through odd contortions. After the leaves died down, I dried off the bulbs and planted them properly the next fall. Mrs. B. forgave me, and I forgave her.
I mention this to assure any novice gardeners that the main thing is to get the bulbs underground and to say that the directions, sometimes given, to be absolutely certain there are no air pockets beneath the bulbs are a little extreme. You spade up the earth and when each bulb goes in (with three or four inches of dirt over the top of the bulb) you crumble with your hand the soil on which the bottom of the bulb rests. You do not have to be an engineer, or carry on like somebody in a cooking school sifting flour.
Marveling at finding a splendid place to plant a rose next February I recently dug a fine hole and put in plenty of horse manure. The only trouble was a magnificent clump of trumpet lilies was in the spot. How could that be? I know where the lilies are, they've been there for years.
All the same, the spade produced that heinous noise (known to many gardeners, and compared with which fingernails on blackboards is music) of a lily bulb being sliced into.
I got the bulb up as best I could, and notice it is now four nice bulbs, and replanted them elsewhere within 15 minutes of this mishap. The bulbs were already heavily rooted. In theory (and certainly in practice) bulbs should be moved while dormant, and not when the roots are growing vigorously. Still, I have done it many a time and suggest that the eventual results are not as awful as books say.
No time of the year is as beautiful as a rule as the first 10 days of November. Years ago I told that to my bride and was proved correct a couple of years. Then our first kid was christened Nov. 1 and it snowed, and I have been taunted ever since. But this year the weather did the expected thing and it was more than slightly agreeable to dig on sunny afternoons with the temperature at 80.
It is a myth that fall color in New England has some special quality of brilliance. It's a question of what trees are growing, not anything peculiar to the frozen north. In Washington the sugar maples, dogwoods, gums, hickories and so on all color as gorgeously as a tree can do anywhere.
I can see right out my front door a splendor of reds and oranges unsurpassed anywhere. People used to say, rightly, that England has such mediocre fall color, and Americans there always felt severely cheated in the fall. Then it occurred to somebody to plant sour gums and sweet gums, some of the wild maples from Japan, some dogwoods and many of the other trees of America and Asia that color brilliantly. To nobody's surprise, at least not to mine, such English gardens as Sheffield Park began bursting into glory every fall.
Here in Washington the sugar maple, for example, is not native, but is widely planted, and it colors as well as it does everywhere in temperate zones. It's often said that planting for fall color is not worthwhile, as the season of brilliance is so short. Well, it lasts a month, which is more than flowering cherries can say.
If I had a lot of land, instead of a small city lot, I'd grow not only a wide assortment of oaks, with their somber smoldering palette, but also beeches, which color soft yellow, not very brilliant but beautiful, and as many Asian glories as possible, including Cercidophyllum, certain euonymuses and such maples as Acer nikkoense, ginnala, to say nothing of more neglected woody creatures like Fothergilla, certain crape myrtles, sassafras and American persimmons.
Hollies are mandatory, their lustrous deep green serving as perfect foil to other colors, and the same may be said for that most beautiful native conifer, the plain red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). I often think a gardener's good sense, as well as aesthetic judgment, can be gauged by his opinion of our wild juniper. Many people do not care for it because they are snobs, but all steady right-thinking gardeners rank it high in beauty.