In spring our gardens come alive, and bulbs are the first flowers to bloom in many East End gardens. Daffodils and tulips are favorites, but there are some earlier bloomers that bring color to our gardens before daffodils and tulips get started. Fall is the time to plant these early bloomers, as you plant those daffodils and tulips. To give your garden a jump start in spring, here are some early bloomers to plant in your garden. If you can’t find them for sale in your local nursery or garden center (by all means, check there first), you can order by mail.
If you can keep deer out of your garden, with perimeter fencing around your property or by enclosing your garden, consider planting some of these little beauties to give springtime a head start in your garden. When planting, follow the directions for how deep to plant the bulbs — it’s important. And plant them in groups or by the handful, instead of individually dotting them around one at a time (which would take forever anyway).
Here are some of the earliest bloomers to plant this fall. I’m including their botanical names along with their familiar names in case you order by mail.
Grecian Windflower (Anemone blanda) grows less than 6 inches high and bears daisy-like little flowers in blue or white.
Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) is among the earliest spring bloomers. These little beauties grow just a few inches high and bear flowers that look like tiny blue daisies with yellow centers. They’ll do best in a partly shady location.
Crocuses are the first flowers to bloom in many gardens, where their chalice-shaped flowers in golden yellow, purple and white announce that spring has arrived. There are other crocuses that bloom even earlier than the familiar Dutch hybrid varieties. Two to look for are cloth of gold (Crocus susiana) and tommies (Crocus tomasianus). Their little flowers are just a few inches off the ground but so welcome in early spring. Plant the bulbs in a sunny spot where the soil drains well, and if you’re lucky they will form clumps over time.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are in the same botanical family as amaryllis, though you’d hardly guess it by looking at them. Snowdrops herald the coming of spring with their gracefully drooping white flowers with green inner petals, borne one to a stem. They’re delightful when allowed to form groups over time under deciduous trees, where the ground is sunny in very early spring before the trees get their leaves.
Tall bearded irises are standouts in summer flower gardens, but there are some smaller irises that bloom in early spring. Iris danfordiae is a small yellow iris that bears its flowers on 4-inch stems; leaves that develop after the flowers bloom grow about 8 to 12 inches high. Iris reticulata is a bit taller — 6 to 18 inches — and sends out fragrant violet blossoms in early spring.
Bright, golden daffodils and narcissus announce that spring has arrived on the East End, with their cheerful blossoms with flat petals arranged around a central cup that may be yellow or orange. Some narcissus bloom earlier than the classic varieties, in early spring. Two of them, called cyclamineus varieties, are Tete-a-Tete (yellow) and February Silver (white).
There’s another kind of narcissus that you can enjoy indoors over the winter — paperwhite narcissus — by setting the bulbs in a bowl with water. Local nurseries sell the bulbs in fall. This type of narcissus can’t be grown in gardens here — winter temperatures are too cold for them. But they’re delightful indoors, where you can enjoy their pleasant fragrance, and practically foolproof to bring into bloom. Place clean marbles in a bowl and fill with enough water to cover them a couple of inches deep. Set the bulbs on the marbles with the flat side down, and make sure the water is always touching the bottom of the bulbs. Roots will grow from the bottom of each bulb, and stems that will bear flowers will emerge from the top. As the flowers bloom the stems will continue to grow, so you may need to support them to keep them upright. You can make successive plantings of bulbs to have flowers over a longer time. Paperwhites are so easy to bring into bloom that even non-gardeners can do it. Enjoy!