The wee bulbs that bloom from January through March are a special delight, and the only “minor” thing about them is the small size of their flowers. Indeed, the joy they provide is huge, for they offer the brightest of all possible flowers — sparkling blues, whites, purples, lavenders and yellows — at a time when there is little else happening in the garden. I like to plant them in circles under trees, in drifts near the front porch, and beneath my lilacs, mock-oranges, and other deciduous shrubs. Here are just a few of the early birds that you can plant in September and October:
The winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, will open its green-collared golden cups as early as January during a mild winter, and late-February or early March during a severe one. I have it planted next to the south-facing front porch, where visitors can enjoy its buttery blooms. Hint: Soak bulbs overnight. Then plant 2″ deep, 2″ or 3″ apart.
Galanthus, or snowdrops, are undaunted by snow. Planted above a southern stone wall in my Serpentine Garden, the nodding white bells never fail to open in January. They are also effective in a woodland setting, providing they receive early sunshine. I have the more common, single variety, but there is a double version available, too. I always save a few bulbs for even earlier bloom in the window garden. Plant in September, 4″ deep, 2″ apart.
Planted in a circle beneath my Madonna crabapple, Puschkinia libanotica makes a pleasant, Victorian-like picture. Its icy-blue flowers open in March. Plant 2″ to 3″ deep, 4″ to 5″ apart.
Essential to every winter garden are the crocuses, particularly the species that bloom from February into March. These include the golden Crocus flavus ‘Yellow Mammoth,’ the lavender-violet C. vernus ‘Grand Maitre’ (above) and the bluish-white C. chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl.’ Plant early, 2″ to 3″ deep, 5″ to 6″ apart.
Chiondoxa, or “Glory of the Snow,” is another winter-lover. I recently planted 25 of these bulbs in a patch of my Woodland Garden, in hopes that they will transform the landscape there from white to blue in early March. Plant 3″ deep, 2″ apart; endures March snow. Good for naturalizing in relatively sunny places.
It is worth mentioning that all of these bulbs will bloom better — and earlier — if you plant them in rich, well-draining soil, which warms up faster than cold, hard, clay. Clay soil, of course, can be improved with the addition of compost and sand.
I hope that I’ve tempted you with some of these early birds. Why not plant a few of the minors in sheltered spots beneath your own trees and deciduous shrubs this fall? I can guarantee that winter will bring you some unexpected color.
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