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Interior West

BY LAUREN SPRINGER OGDEN / Fort Collins, Colorado, USDA Zone 5

Bulb Love

I’m an unreformed bulbaholic. It started innocently—one of my earliest memories is of crawling on damp, earthy-smelling dormant grass dotted with starry blue squills. Things went downhill when I stole a handful of daffodil bulbs from the local hardware store to plant at home.

These days I come by bulbs honestly. Most of the time. Over the past two decades I’ve planted well over 50,000 bulbs and continue to add several thousand each year. I may have helped put Brent and Becky Heath’s kids through college. Not all the bulbs are bought, though: my husband, Scott, a long-standing bulb maniac himself, has made me codependent in his rustling activities. We spend many happy hours scouring abandoned lots for naturalized bulbs to liberate.

For those who are not yet hopelessly in love with bulbs, let me attempt to describe the allure. Bulbous plants are the toughest of the tough. Most thrive in mineral-rich, humus-poor, heavy soils and tolerate periods of extreme drought. They’ve evolved to hide and wait for the return of better conditions, and then to send up, in many cases, the most extraordinary, otherworldly effort of beauty. This gorgeous flower lasts perhaps a day, or two or three. Nothing that blooms for weeks on end can hold a candle to these moments.

Bulbs need so little and give back so much. They start off homely, even ugly, and return transformed. We help them just a bit—we dig a hole in the dirt for them. Then we forget about them until, time and time again, they make their brief, joyful appearance, following the rhythms of the natural world, marking rains and seasons in floral time.

Bulb mania is much less expensive than other addictions. Hundreds of bulbs can be had for less than a hundred dollars. How to plant them all? The most efficient method is the mass grave, only possible in a new garden or a reworked area. You excavate a wide hole to the depth required by the bulb species needing the deepest hole. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these go in. Replace the soil to half the depth of the grave. Then add another layer of smaller bulb species. Put back the rest of the soil, and perhaps nestle in some groundcovers or perennials.

More often, gardeners have to dig holes for bulbs among already established plants. For species that need deep holes, I use a professional-grade drill with a long extension cord and a long-necked three-inch drill bit. The soil should be slightly moist. If it’s too dry, it comes up like dust and falls right back into the hole you just drilled. If it’s too wet, it wrenches your wrists and burns out the drill.

My most commonly used technique employs the dibble. This metal tool is shaped like a sharp-pointed sausage, with a pistol-grip handle. I can poke holes in moist clay at the rate of about 500 per hour for bulbs less than an inch in diameter. I plant these by the hundreds. There’s always room for more; the garden’s soil is my fruitcake and the bulbs are the raisins. It’s the safest addiction I know. H

SOURCES TO KNOW

Odyssey Bulbs P. O. Box 382 South Lancaster, MA 01561 www.odysseybulbs.com 877-220-1651

Look no further for out-of-the-ordinary bulbs. Russell Stafford carries a plethora of unusual beauties; of note are odd allium, ornithogalum, fritillary, tulip, and iris species, and a huge selection of crocus and colchicum. What’s more, he gives exceptional cultural information, based on his intelligent division of climates. As he writes, hardiness zones are pretty much useless for bulbs. I can attest to that.

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