BY MARTY ROSS / Kansas City, Missouri, USDA Zone 5
PLACES TO VISIT
Public Gardens In and Around Kansas City
After the bulbs are planted, bundle up and take a walk in a botanic garden or an arboretum. At the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (www.opprf.org/arboretum.htm), just across the Kansas-Missouri state line, it is pleasant to walk in the Marder Woodland Garden and on the hiking trails. If I have just half an hour, the Kauffman Memorial Gardens, right in town, are a refreshing and interesting interlude. Thirty miles east of the city, in Kingsville, late mums and asters may still be blooming at Powell Gardens (www.powellgardens.org). The sculptural forms of evergreens, twiggy shrubs, and exuberant grasses always suggest combinations worth taking home.
Extreme Bulb Planting
One jolly Christmas Eve, we planted bulbs. My husband wielded the spade, and I was on my hands and knees tucking fistfuls of fat, double-nosed daffodils and crinkly tulips under the blade, among the hard clods of soil and ice crystals. Just a few more, I always say to myself in September, standing entranced before the bulb displays at the local garden shop. “Just a few more,” I promised him several times that day, as we made our way around the garden with the last couple of hundred bulbs.
Christmas Eve is not an ideal time to plant bulbs in the Midwest. It should, of course, be cool before you put them in; better-organized gardeners than I wait until just after the first frost, and finish long before conditions get miserable. The best planting time runs from about the middle of October to the end of November, depending on whether you’re in Minnesota or Missouri and on how far you’re willing to push your luck.
“We wait until mid-October here, when the weather is perfect, then we go crazy planting,” says Christian Harper, horticulturist at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin. Gardeners and volunteers plant about 20,000 spring-blooming bulbs every fall in a carefully planned effort that nevertheless occasionally runs into the challenges of ice and snow. Harper once stacked bales of leaves on top-soil made impenetrable by an early frost; the ground’s lingering warmth thawed the beds out so they could plant within a few days. “It worked great, and the bulbs were fine the next year,” he says.
Molly Moriarty, owner of Heart & Soil LandDesign, in St. Paul, Minnesota, starts planting in early October. “After a hard freeze, the mosquitoes are gone and it’s gorgeous,” she says. “You’re starting to get some open spots in the garden, where you can cut back without tripping over stuff.” She has had to shovel snow off the soil to plant bulbs in clients’ gardens. “Snow is not a bad thing,” she says. “What stops us from planting is frost. We try to get the bulbs in before the soil ends up as crumbly chunks of rock.” As long as you can break through the soil, she says, you can plant. If the ground is really hard, get the bulbs down into the ground as far as you can and cover them with (unfrozen) topsoil from a garden shop; mulch well with crushed leaves.
When one last bag of bulbs reveals itself in the potting shed long after the soil is really frozen, containers are your only choice. One year, I planted dozens of bulbs in rectangular cedar planters clustered together on the back driveway, which we delicately refer to as our terrace, and covered them with a big pile of autumn leaves, held in place by Christmas-tree boughs. From inside the house, it looked like a burial mound. I used to contemplate it from my window, throw another log on the fire, and think thoughts of spring. It worked. H
Narcissus ‘Ziva‘ and ‘Galilee’
If you plant paperwhite narcissus by Thanksgiving, you’ll have flowers for the holidays. ‘Ziva‘ is widely available and easy. ‘Galilee’ (pictured), available from mail-order specialists, is just as easy to grow, and produces even more flowers. It has a softer fragrance and is not quite as tall as ‘Ziva’. Grow them in pebbles in any deep dish or cachepot. Light daily watering encourages stronger foliage and stems, but be prepared to stake them with a few twigs from the garden. Sources, page 68.