BULBS FOR WET AREAS OF YOUR GARDEN
Most good gardeners know the phrase “bulbs don’t like wet feet.” It’s a fun reminder that bulbs like to be planted in well-drained soil. As with most rules there are some exceptions. According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Center of Danby, Vt., www.bulb.com, certain bulbs not only like but love wet places. Here are a few to consider this fall for planting near water gardens, creeks, streams or soggier spots of the garden that don’t drain as well as they might.
Leucojum – At first glance, leucojum look quite a bit like very tall galanthus otherwise known as snowdrops. Indeed both belong to the same family and leucojum are often called summer snowflakes. Leucojum, however has six petals which are equal in length, while galanthus has three long petals and three short ones. Leucojum has yellow-green spots at the tips of the petals, and it likes to be planted in a moist habitat!
The varieties found at retail are usually Leucojum aestivum. Despite the summer snowflake name, they normally flower in April-May. They have nodding white flowers, grow to about 16 inches (40 cm) high, though one variety, 'Gravetye Giant', has stems that easily reach a length of 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 cm). Depending on the bulb size, most plants will have three to five bell-shaped flowers dangling from each long, fairly sturdy flower stem.
The bulbs can remain planted in the same location year after year. If left undisturbed, they produce more and more flowers. Planting them in fall is essential if you want to enjoy lots of flowers in the following spring. To naturalize, plant in soil high in nutrients. Add well-rotted cow manure, compost or a slow release bulb fertilizer in subsequent autumns.
Fritillaria meleagris – Small, delicate Fritillaria meleagris little resembles its large and imposing cousin Fritillaria imperialis. This diminutive species, also known as the snake's-head fritillaria or the guinea-hen flower, is native to Europe where its bulbs usually grow and naturalize in moist locations. It can be found with either checkered purple or pure white flowers that bloom in April-May. The average plant height is around 10 inches (25 cm). They prefer full sun to partial shade and rich soil. They do best when the plants are not disturbed after planting. In subsequent seasons a top dressing of sphagnum peat can be introduced between the plants. The plant will self-propagate by seed, and the peat will help the seeds to germinate. These fritillarias are often sold as mixed colors but individual cultivars can be found as well.
Camassia – Camassia is native to the mountains and prairies of western North America, where it became known as edible camassia and Indian quamash. Meriwether Lewis praised it in 1806 in notes made during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Despite this early plug, this highly desirable bulbous plant remains one of the lesser-known bulb flowers. In nature, seven or eight species exist, but only three are commonly cultivated, with most sold by mail-order firms. According to Webster’s Dictionary the name 'Quamash' comes from Chinook Jargon, “an extinct pidgin composed of elements from Chinook, Nootka, English, French, and other languages, formerly used in the Pacific Northwest.”
The plant derives the edible part of its common name from the fact that various native North Americans cooked and ate the bulbs of certain species, not something recommended today. Camassias, which naturalize in USDA zones 3-8, have a very natural look and fit in perfectly between perennials, both in borders and among ground covers. If too many bulbs develop in any one location, they can be dug up in early fall, divided and immediately replanted. The most significant species are:
- Camassia cusickii – With light blue flowers that bloom in May-June, the plant grows to a height of 24-32 inches (60-80 cm) and thrives in full sun to partial shade. It produces an abundance of flowers, with up to 100 star-shaped little flowers on each raceme. Nice when combined with bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis).
- Camassia quamash also found as C. esculenta – Deep blue flowers that bloom in June-July. They grow to an average height of 14-16 inches (35-40 cm) and need full to partial shade. This camassia is one that the native North Americans used to eat. It blooms later in the season than the other camassias and is also the shortest.
- Camassia leichtlinii – This species boasts creamy white flowers that bloom in May-June. It grows to an average height of 24-40 inches (60-100 cm) and does best in full sun to partial shade. This tall-growing species in named after Max Leichtlin, a 19th century German botanist. Under favorable conditions, these bulbs naturalize very well and form compact groups. One cultivar, C. leichtlinii 'Alba', is pure white, while A. leichtlinii 'Caerulea' has light blue flowers.