Plant bulbs soon for spring color

Published on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 by Jody Hackleman

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They’ve done it again. Deer, squirrels, mice or rabbits – it doesn’t matter. This past winter, critters have chewed through 75 percent of the tulip bulbs planted in my little cottage garden. And, quite frankly, I can’t afford to indulge their expensive appetites.

Now’s the time to purchase spring bulbs for planting out in October, but why keep planting bulbs that are so tempting to the wildlife? I love my tulips, but so do all the hungry creatures they seem to attract. It makes much more sense to plant mounds of daffodils for the color therapy that many of us need by winter’s end. Daffodil bulbs are poisonous, so deer and rodents very nicely leave them alone. And when left alone in a sunny spot, the bulbs naturalize, multiplying over the years.

Yellow trumpet daffodils are still the quintessential spring flower, and their buttery cheerfulness brightens up many a grey and drizzly day on the Point. But tulips are the eye candy of the spring garden. Once you’ve filled your yard with their rainbow of color, being forced to limit the garden to a basic scheme of whites and yellows seems a step backward. To mitigate this problem, bulb breeders have found a brilliant solution for daffodil fans wanting to advance beyond the classic gold of King Alfred and the plain vanilla whiteness of Mount Hood.

An ever-increasing collection of pink daffodils is now on the market. Gardeners who are hooked on color can find worthy tulip replacements in the ice cream hues of these glorious blooms. Daffodil breeders have truly worked their magic, and their dazzling pink daffodils bring a new dimension of color to the garden through their assorted pink-toned trumpets. Dozens of new flowers have been conjured up through various combinations of either soft salmon, apricot, peachy-rose or bold coral trumpets with different petal colorations that can be either shades of white, ivory or yellow, or even the palest green.

A few seasons ago I discovered a fine selection of pink daffodils in my favorite bulb catalog, John Scheepers’ “Beauty from Bulbs” (www.johnscheepers.com). I needed replacements for a squirrel-ravaged patch of violet tulips, and chose Mon Cherie, convinced that her frilly pink trumpet and creamy petals could fill the void. Ten bulbs were planted, and the following April ten long lasting, peach and white blooms appeared, accentuating the fresh green foliage of the foundation plants. With a blue and purple ribbon of grape hyacinths running along the border’s edge, the tasty tulips were hardly missed. Best yet, the ten pink and white daffodils planted three years ago have more than doubled in quantity.

This spring drifts of the little daffodil Bell Song, a two-toned beauty of peachy pink and ivory, attracted a lot of attention from invited garden visitors, and were fortunately ignored by the four-legged unwelcome kind. It makes good sense to replace this spring’s chewed up beds of bubble gum pink tulips with another batch of Bell Song this year, underplanted for color punch with winter pansies in antique shades of wine and lavender.

There are difficult decisions to make for this year’s bulb order. Billy Graham has pale yellow petals and a contrasting trumpet of soft orangy-pink – imagine lemon cake topped with a scoop of peach ice cream. Faith has sparkling white petals and a deep salmon-pink trumpet. Although pricey, I can’t resist Sentinel. It’s a delectable new offering this year from Scheepers, described as having a ruffly cup “with varying rings of saffron-apricot to salmon-pink around a luminous green eye."

Still hungry for more choices? Breck’s Bulbs (www.brecks.com) lists some yummy daffodils available this fall. I seem to have plenty of empty space in the tulip bed for both Decoy (deep berry red trumpet and creamy white petals) and the pale lime petals and pinky-red cup of luscious new Strawberry Margarita.

Critters, be warned: Colorful daffodils are on the menu this spring. Find your meals in the fields and forests. No more feasting on my cottage garden – it’s meant to be strictly a feast for the eye.