Marjorie's eLetter for early Autumn 2010

Early Autumn E-Letter
By Marjorie Harris

TulipaSpringGreenHyacinthAndHostaIt's magic.  The air is finally softening up just as the days are getting shorter.  The beauty and the terror of bulb season are upon us. Choosing what the squirrels won't eat, making up planting patterns when things are still growing and then imagining what will be there in spring is no easy task.  No doubt about it bulb planting takes careful consideration.

First of all, buy as many bulbs as possible.  Then get all the help  you can afford to get them into the ground. It's going to be a long long winter and we need something splendid to look forward to. Making mixes that will come out harmoniously in spring is one of the great bits of fun choosing bulbs this autumn.

Bulbs are amazing because they can be planted even when the soil is frozen hard.  It depends on your tolerance for planting when it’s really cold.  If you can't get bulbs into place in the next month, prepare the holes and then keep the soil in a shed or other place where it won't freeze.  Don't use the excuse of the weather to avoid this chore. And water them in well no matter what time you do it.

Here's my recommended list once again. It was on the blog and I haven't changed my mind:

Bulb List:

  • Muscari  latifolium blue
  • Scilla ‘Spring Beauty’   blue
  • Allium ‘Atropurpureum’ purple
  • Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ purple-magenta
  • Hyacinthoides  non scripta  (English Bluebells)
  • Tulipa tarda white  with a yellow interior
  • Tulipa ‘Spring Green’  white with a green stripe

If squirrels do anything with these bulbs, it’s little more than try to dig them up rather than nibbling away on them. The smart thing to do is plant so the soil doesn’t look like it’s been disturbed in any way.  That means digging down deep, adding some Actisol  (Dugald Cameron of Gardenimport recommends it) and then making sure you’ve got a good solid cover of leaves or mulch on top so it looks perfect.  

To the above list, I’d add some more favourites which I will try to guard carefully:

Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ puts paid to anyone who hates orange in the garden. This is an exceptional tulip with luscious colour and it looks glorious with Allium atropurpureum

Planting a few bulbs each of many different types will only end up being a visual mish mash.  Go for an extremely simple palette such as I’ve suggested (blue, white, purple and a shot of orange).  Roll them through your perennial beds so that you’ve got little rivers of colour among the perennials. When the latter come up they’ll cover up the foliage mess,  and the ones planted the deepest will still be thriving when you’ve got new perennial colour about to pop.

This means keeping lots of stuff in your head, so the simpler the palette the easier your choices are.  The ‘Spring Green’ looks absolutely gorgeous next to a variegated Solomon Seal for instance, the Alliums are particularly great near a Rosa glauca as harmony and Euphorbia palustris as a contrast:


Always plant in layers:  the big ones go in the deepest and with little ones at the top.  This way squirrels are less likely to get at the tulips they love so much. You can always mix tulips and narcissus which are poisonous.  However, I’m less and less fond of this mix. Marauding squirrels seem to mess around with them just to be mean.

Since I have a garden that is fed mainly by compost and, occasionally, manure, I don’t feel the need to fertilize bulbs. But if you are convinced your soil is bereft, make sure you get some compost around as soon as possible.  There are commercial bulb foods but I think they are expensive and probably not necessary.  Bulbs come supplied with everything they need inside for th first year of growth. Compost and mulching  can be added this autumn and  again next year.


  • Make sure your bulb areas are really well watered. It should go way below the depth you plant the bulbs in.
  • Use the height or thickness of a bulb as a minimum planting depth. The deeper you plant the safer the bulb will be and the later will bloom.
  • Mix the bulbs by colour so you have a contrast of shape, size and intensity of hue, add something as a surprise.

There many colour combinations to try. Make lists of colours, then lists of bulbs you like in that colour range. Then go crazy shopping. Buying in the hundreds makes sense especially if you expect to have something eye-popping next spring. Here are a few combinations:

  • Black/purple/pink and a hit of white
  • Shades of pink with a hit of black
  • Yellow/gold/orange and a hit of blue

Use the same kinds of combinations in containers. Make sure you store pots off the ground and in a place where they won’t succumb to freeze-thaws.

I’m going to hear Jacqueline van der Kloet next week and I’ll send along an addendum to this just in case something sensational comes up.



I have a request for you to consider as a loyal subscribers:

I am working on a new book called The Thrifty Gardener. It will follow up on this year's THRIFTY: living the frugal life with style. I'd love to hear any of your good tips or ideas. I have quite of few in THRIFTY so I’m looking for things that are a little more arcane. So please email me.

If you haven’t got Thrifty, you can order it from me. Signed and sent $28.



If you need my services:  email me.

Yours Marjorie



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