Category Archives: Spring Bulbs

Forcing Bulbs – It’s Easier Than You Think

Forced Narcissus

For starters, “forcing” is a misnomer because it sounds too much like work. We’re just tricking the bulbs into thinking winter is over quite a bit sooner than it is. Forcing is an easy sleight of hand that offers the soul-restoring scents and colors of spring at a time of year when spirits sorely need reviving. But you need to plant now, in autumn, to enjoy the results when the snow flies! Although we usually think of forcing Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips, many of the smaller bulbs are also extremely easy and gratifying to force: Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla, Dwarf Irises, and Anemones also will give great results.

Forced bulbs can be divided into two groups: those that require a chilling period and those that don’t. When bulbs do need chilling, what they actually require is many weeks less than typical northern winters. (See the list at the end of this post for details.)

In a nutshell, here’s what you do . . .

 Force Bulbs That Need Chilling

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Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool but not freezing dark spot for the required minimum time (see below), then bring them into warmth and light in the house. The bulbs think spring has arrived and quickly sprout and flower. It’s that easy — the bulbs do most of the work.

This is a great project to do with young children, if you want to invite the kids or grandkids to participate. The actual planting is a little messy, so it’s a good idea to spread some newspapers to catch any spilled soil, gather all your pots in one spot, and do all the planting at one time.

Containers and Potting Mix

Bulb containers with moistened potting mix
Bulb containers with moistened potting mix

You can use any pot you like to hold bulbs you want to force, as long as it allows room for root growth — about 3-4” of space below the bulbs. This is a great opportunity to showcase flea market finds and tag sale treasures, or your favorite terra cotta pots. If you choose a pot without a drainage hole in the bottom, you’ll have to water your bulbs carefully, because bulbs that sit in soggy potting mix soon will rot. Consider using a ceramic or terra cotta pot if you’re forcing tall Daffodils or Tulips. These flowers can be top-heavy when in full bloom and may topple if grown in lightweight plastic pots.

We recommend that you plant bulbs in a soilless potting mix (available at garden centers and hardware stores). A soilless mix holds moisture but allows excess water to drain away readily.

Potting the Bulbs

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To pot the bulbs, begin by placing potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. This is an ideal job for a very young assistant, if you’d like to invite a child or grandchild to join the fun. Add the moistened mix to the container until the pot is about three-quarters full. Set the bulbs root-side down on top of the mix (or on their sides if you can’t tell which end is up, as with Anemone blanda). Space the bulbs much more closely than you would in the garden – they should almost touch. Then add more mix. Cover small bulbs completely with a ½” layer of mix; cover larger bulbs up to their necks, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water thoroughly after potting.

Chilling the Bulbs

Bulbs in bags in Mary Valente refrigerator door; Tulips; Daffodils; Narcissus; Hyacinth; bulb forcing
You can keep bulbs cool in a refrigerator, but only if there is no fresh fruit stored inside. The ethylene gas released by fruit during its natural ripening process will interfere with flower development. Better to store bulbs in an extra refrigerator, if you happen to have one.

To force cold-hardy bulbs into bloom, you must first encourage them to produce new roots by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time that varies by type of bulb (see listing below). The ideal rooting temperature also varies, but most bulbs flower best if stored at 40-60°F for the first 3-4 weeks after potting, then at 32-40° for the balance of the cooling period – a shift that mimics the drop in soil temperature outdoors as fall turns to winter.

The easiest way to chill bulbs is to put them outdoors and let nature do the rest. To insulate the bulbs from rapid changes in air temperature and from freezing cold, bury the pots in a pile of dry leaves held in place by a plastic tarp or in a pile of mulch, such as bark or wood chip, and cover the pile to prevent formation of a frozen crust. You also can chill bulbs in a cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one; a cold basement; or an unheated garage (provided the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing). If you choose to chill bulbs in the refrigerator, be certain there is no fresh fruit stored inside. Fruit releases ethylene gas as a natural part of its natural ripening process, and the ethylene will interfere with flower development. In locations other than a refrigerator, it may be difficult to arrange for the ideal shift in temperature described above. Fortunately, most bulbs haven’t read the manuals, and they will root beautifully if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40°F during the rooting time. Professional growers fill huge walk-in coolers with potted bulbs and control the temperatures precisely. Using an old refrigerator in a basement can deliver great results without ever touching the temperature controls.

The possible downside to outside storage has four little legs. If mice or other rodents have access to your bulbs, they will devour all but the varieties that are poisonous or distasteful to them (such as Narcissus, more commonly known as Daffodils). Protect potted bulbs with steel mesh, such as hardware cloth.

Please note that moisture is as important as temperature in the successful chilling of bulbs. Check the potting mix in the pots every few weeks and water thoroughly when the surface is dry to the touch.

Toward the end of the recommended rooting time, begin checking the pots for signs that the bulbs have rooted. If you see fleshy white roots poking through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots, the bulbs are usually ready to bloom. If you don’t see roots, give the bulbs more time in cold storage. Don’t judge readiness by the appearance of shoots from the tops of the bulbs; without roots, the bulbs won’t flower properly.

Once the bulbs have rooted, you don’t have to bring them out of the cold immediately. Most will tolerate extra chilling time, allowing you to orchestrate a succession of winter bloom.

Bringing the Bulbs into Bloom

Forced bulbs under lights
Forced bulbs under grow lights. A sunny window also provides adequate light for bulb forcing.

When the bulbs have rooted, bring the pots out of cold storage and set them in a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperature stays below 65°F). Bright light will help keep the leaves and flower stems compact; in weak light, they tend to flop. You’re likely to find that the bulbs have produced white shoots during cold storage. Sunlight quickly turns them green.

Keep a close eye on the moisture needs of the bulbs as they send up leaves and flower stems. Initially, the bulbs probably won’t need to be watered more frequently than once a week (if that much), but by the time they bloom, you may need to water them every day or two.

Most bulbs will bloom 2-5 weeks after they come out of the cold, heralding spring with their bright colors and sweet fragrances. Duration of bloom varies with the type of bulb and the variety but is generally shorter than you’d expect of bulbs in the garden. Warm temperatures and low humidity indoors speed the decline of the flowers. Shifting the pots out of direct sunlight and moving them to a cool room at night helps prolong bloom.

When the blooms fade, we usually recommend that you toss the bulbs on the compost pile. If you keep them in a sunny window and continue to water them, forced bulbs can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years. Tulips rarely bloom again, but Daffodils, Crocus, and Grape Hyacinth are more likely to be worth the effort of planting.

Forcing Hyacinths Without Soil

The whiskery white roots of some Hyacinth bulbs appeared in just 24 hours.
The whiskery white roots of some Hyacinth bulbs appeared  just 24 hours after they were removed from cooling and were set atop glass gems with water below.

Hyacinths can be forced in pebbles and water, or in glass jars. They still require a cool rooting period if forced this way. Special forcing glasses, in use since Victorian days, are shaped like an hourglass and keep the bottom of the bulb dry—only the bulb’s roots reach down into the water. If you are using pebbles in another type of container, place a 2-3” layer of pebbles, such as pea stone, marble chips, or river rocks, in the bottom of the bowl or pot. Set the bulbs on top of the pebbles then fill with more pebbles, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulbs exposed. Add enough water to create a reservoir for the roots, but be sure the bases of the bulbs stay above water level. If they sit in water, the bulbs will rot. Then place the container in a dark, cool area (40-50°F) for 4-8 weeks. Check the water level occasionally and add more water as necessary, keeping the water level below the bottom of the bulb. When roots have developed and leaves begin to grow, it’s time to move the bulb into a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperatures stay below 65°F). Bulbs forced in water can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years – if ever.

Recommended Cooling Period

Professionals often recommend very lengthy cold periods, but we’ve had good results at home using the minimums listed here. Remember that bulbs can keep chilling for longer than the minimum. Please note that Tulips do require the longest period to flower successfully.

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Recommended Rooting Times for Cold-Hardy Bulbs

  • Anemone (Windflower), 8-10 weeks
  • Chionodoxa (Glories of the Snow), 10-12 weeks
  • Crocus (Spring-blooming Crocus), 8-10 weeks
  • Galanthus (Snowdrops), 10-12 weeks
  • Hyacinthus (Hyacinth), 12-14 weeks
  • Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata and other spring-blooming bulbous species), 10-12 weeks
  • Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), 8-10 weeks
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinth, to keep the leaves shorter, store cool and dry for 6-8 weeks, then give 2 weeks of cool rooting time)
  • Trumpet Daffodils, 14-16 weeks
  • Large-Cupped Daffodils, 15-17 weeks
  • Small-Cupped Daffodils, 16-18 weeks
  • Double-Flowered Daffodils, 16-18 weeks
  • Split-Corona Daffodils, 14-16 weeks
  • Narcissus (Triandrus), 16-17 weeks
  • Narcissus (Cyclamineus), 14-15 weeks
  • Narcissus (Jonquilla), 15-16 weeks
  • Narcissus (Tazetta), 14-15 weeks
  • Narcissus (Miniature), 14-16 weeks
  • Scilla (Squill), 10-12 weeks
  • Tulipa (Tulip), 14-16 weeks

Our Hunt for Bulbs in Holland

As fall planting season approaches and you begin to consider which spring-blooming bulbs to add to your garden, we thought we’d tell you a bit about how we find those bulbs and introduce you to some of the bulb experts who help us do it.

To search out Daffodils, Tulips and other spring bloomers, we fly each spring to northern Holland, an area of the Netherlands that contains one of the largest concentrations of bulb growers in the world. Because of demands back at the farm, our trips have to be kept fairly short, only 2 to 3 days, but we pack in a great deal, visiting 6 to 8 bulb growers, and always making time for a visit to the legendary flower garden Keukenhof in Lisse.

On each trip, our first view of what awaits comes through the plane window. Laid out below is a colorful patchwork of Holland’s bulb fields in full and glorious bloom, stretching as far as the eye can see. As many times as we’ve seen this spectacle, it still does something to our hearts, stirring wonder and pure joy in equal measure.

The view from the plane. Photo credit: Eric Breed
The view from the plane. Photo credit: Eric Breed

At the airport gate, we’re met by two extraordinary men we’re privileged to consider our Dutch partners and friends. Carlos van der Veek and Eric Breed are two of the principals in Fluwel, an internationally recognized bulb breeding, growing, and exporting company. Carlos founded Fluwel in 1992 with Tulip expert Jeroen van dan Hoek, and Eric joined the company in 2008. “Fluwel” is an acronym for “Flowers love u, we enjoy life,” and it gives you some idea of the spirit that infuses the whole operation.

Our Dutch Partners

Carlos, a self-professed “bulb nerd,” grew up in the business. His late father, Karel van der Veek, was a renowned Daffodil hybridizer who collected and grew Daffodils behind the farmhouse where Carlos was raised and where his mother still lives. (Carlos is bringing up his own children in a house across the street.) Karel’s garden, which began with just two types of Daffodils, now contains 2,635 varieties. Carlos was “spoon-fed” bulb know-how by his Dad from an early age. Today, he’s internationally regarded as a “walking encyclopedia” on Daffodils.

Carlos van der Veek
Carlos van der Veek

Eric, who is “a bulb nerd like me,” according to Carlos, is the son of bulb breeder Kees Breed. His maternal grandfather was a 3rd generation bulb grower whose fields abutted Keukenhof. Eric spent his youth in and around the fields, deadheading flowers, scanning for virus, driving the tractor, and cutting Tulips. He also worked with Jeroen’s father to learn about forcing Tulips. A photographer and consultant, Eric has traveled the world hunting for Tulips, and his trips to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Israel, Crete, Turkey, Spain, and Tibet are chronicled in his booklet Going Wild for Tulips.

Eric Breed in Kazakhstan in 2001, hunting for Tulip greigii and Tulip kaufmanniana
Eric Breed in Kazakhstan in 2001, hunting for Tulip greigii and Tulip kaufmanniana

Guided by Carlos, Jeroen, and Eric, who seem to have new and creative ideas every 6 seconds, the men have made Fluwel an international force that is synonymous with expertise and the highest quality bulbs. Their flowers are sought by buyers all over the world and can be seen in displays in Keukenhof; at Germany’s Schloss Ippenburg; and at the Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen, among many other venues. Their passion for bulbs inspires their efforts to educate people of all ages and to make learning about and living with flowers a fun and enriching experience for all. In Sint-Maartensvlotbrug, they created Tulpenland, a theme park and “land of eternal spring” that attracts visitors of all ages who are invited to walk through exhibits and playscapes inspired by the history of the Tulip.

The Barnum-like expansion of Fluwel over the years is governed by the same passion and enthusiasm that characterizes our meetings with Carlos and Eric, who are equal parts farmers, bulb experts, and ambassadors for all they grow.

The Search Is On

Leaving the airport, we hop into Carlos’ van, and we’re off, traveling across miles of Holland’s flat fields, all of them exploding with colorful flowers. Among our stops is Fluwel, where acres are planted with Daffodils, Tulips, and Crocuses. Over coffee, a tradition of Dutch hospitality, we talk bulbs. As Carlos likes to say, “Once you start talking about Tulips and Daffodils, just make another cup of coffee, because we won’t stop talking anymore.”

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White Flower Farm’s marketing director, Eliot A. Wadsworth, left, and Daffodil expert Carlos van der Veek

When coffee time comes to an end (about 3 cups later), we head outdoors.

Walking the fields with Carlos and Eric is an extraordinary pleasure and an inspiration. They might show us ancient Narcissus varieties rescued from abandoned home sites; talk about how the different colors of the blooms change over the course of time as the flowers age; help us learn about optimal planting depths and how they affect the overall success rate or possibly just the bloom timing; and point out planned and unplanned color combinations that we can translate into the garden pairings we suggest in our catalogs. What we learn on these walks, we pass along to our customers, the benefit of Carlos and Eric’s wisdom distilled not only in our plant choices but in the information we provide for growing and taking care of them.

Tulip 'Lalibella'
Tulip ‘Lalibella’
A yellow double in its habitat
A yellow double in its habitat

While at Fluwel, Carlos, Eric and our staff members work together to create the proprietary mixes of Daffodils and Tulips that White Flower Farm customers love. Many longtime favorites including our Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix, The Works Daffodil Mix, and the Golden Legacy Daffodil Mix were designed in the fields at Fluwel. (Both Daffodil collections include varieties grown and tended by Carlos’ father.)

Fluwel Mix at Keukenhof
The gardens at Keukenhof attract thousands of visitors each spring.

Before leaving Fluwel, the fittest among us take the time to climb one of the company’s wind turbines, reaching the top to get a bird’s eye view of the fields below.

In addition to showing us around Fluwel, Carlos and Eric don their hats as bulb exporters, and we spend the next few days visiting a handful of select specialty growers. These are individuals who have worked with and grown bulbs for Fluwel for years, and most are personal friends of Carlos and Eric. At each stop, we’re offered coffee, of course, and before the day is through, we’ll have had about 15 cups; which is quite useful when battling jet lag.

We visit growers who specialize in the hybridization of new varieties of Tulips; maintain stocks of existing varieties; grow for the cut flower market; or have a wide range of very special bulbs.

Muscari Maxibell
Muscari Maxibell

Everywhere we go, enchantments abound, with unusual flowers to see and choose from. One highly specialized grower produces only varieties of miniature Muscari, and the tiny blossoms are so small they seem suitable for dollhouses. With Carlos and Eric at our elbows, we take notes, snap pictures, and begin ordering samples to be shipped back to Connecticut for trials in our gardens.

Tulip 'Red Impression,' Tulip 'Pink Impression,' and Tulip 'Apricot Impression'
Tulips ‘Red Impression,’ ‘Pink Impression,’ and ‘Apricot Impression’

Keukenhof Gardens

No spring trip to Holland is complete without a detour to world famous Keukenhof. Carlos and Eric accompany us, escorting us through the displays of individual bulbs and the stunning combinations created by a variety of growers and designers including Fluwel.

Combinations we see sometimes become the inspiration for the bulb gardens we offer White Flower Farm customers at holiday time. But early on, we learned that bulb combinations that bloom simultaneously in Holland don’t always perform similarly in the United States. Because our climates are different, and the sun tends to be stronger in the U.S., combinations that work beautifully at Keukenhof don’t always succeed in our part of the world. Carlos and Eric tell us which combinations will work stateside and which won’t. (We also trial each combo we create to ensure that the results are as spectacular as they can be.)

As our Holland visit comes to an end, we place our bulb orders, and bid our Dutch friends goodbye.

Back in Connecticut, as we usher in the busy spring season, the bulbs in Holland continue to grow. When summer arrives in the Netherlands, the bulbs are harvested and cured by drying them or keeping them at particular temperatures, depending on their type. In the large warehouse at Fluwel, the bulbs are sorted, counted and packed by machines. Proprietary mixes, including our Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix, are assembled by hand.

Tutti Tulpi, the making of a mix
The making of a bulb mix in the warehouse at Fluwel.

Our brand labels are added, and the bulbs are moved to temperature-controlled containers for the trip across the ocean. Maintaining optimal temperatures is a critical part of the process because buying the best bulbs in the world does no good unless they’re properly stored during transport. To ensure our bulbs are kept at optimal temperatures, each container houses a thermostatic recorder to keep an account of temperatures from portal to portal. When we receive the bulbs at our warehouse in Torrington, Conn., in late August and early September, members of our staff carefully check the recorders to ensure that the correct temperatures were maintained during the trip. If everything is in good order, we transfer the bulbs to our own temperature-controlled coolers and keep the bulbs active and healthy until they’re shipped to customers.

Our partnership with Carlos and Eric is one of the highlights of being in the gardening business. It’s a relationship that’s built on friendship, trust, mutual admiration, and a common desire to share the benefit of our knowledge with those who plant bulbs in their gardens.

Narcsissus Pinza_colorful daff blue sky_RS

As Carlos puts it, “We gather knowledge and share it.”

For us, that’s what gardening is all about. That, and all those beautiful flowers.

Our Springtime Visit to Holland

Every April, our Director of Horticulture, Rob Storm, heads to Holland. His trip this spring occurred during a spell of unusually chilly weather (similar to ours), with rain, sleet and snow sometimes falling on the growing fields. The flowers took it all in stride, as you’ll see in Rob’s spectacular photos.

The annual trip is timed to coincide with peak bloom in the Netherlands, and Rob’s days are a decathlon of coffees (a tradition of Dutch hospitality), and visits to grower’s fields, hybridizer’s fields, trial gardens, and display gardens including the internationally renowned Keukenhof. He begins each day around 7 a.m. (or earlier to catch the best light) and doesn’t stop until after dinner, with no concessions for jet lag.

The whirlwind tour begins in northwest Holland, where chilly winds blow in off the North Sea, keeping that area cooler than the south. The landscape is dotted with windmills of the old-fashioned kind, and with an expanding number of today’s propeller-shaped wind energy turbines.

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The first stop is a visit with White Flower Farm’s longtime bulb vendor, Fluwel. Rob is usually met by one of Fluwel’s founders and owners, the renowned Daffodil expert Carlos van der Veek. “We catch up on how each other’s families are growing,” Rob says, “and talk bulbs.” Each year, the owners of Fluwel (an acronym that stands for “Flowers love u, we enjoy life”), grow samples of everything they send out, a quality control measure designed to ensure that the bulbs they’ve received from other growers are top quality and true to name.

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Our Dutch partner, Carlos van der Veek, surrounded his home with bulb plantings. The idea is to inspire visitors and also show what the flowers look like in a home landscape as well as in the adjacent growing fields.

This year’s Fluwel visit included a stop at Carlos’ home, a 150-year-old thatch-roof farmhouse that could play a starring role in a fairytale. Carlos has planted the gardens around it with all sorts of bulbs, partly as a way to inspire visitors and also to provide a source for images showing bulbs in home landscapes rather than in Fluwel’s growing fields.

From Fluwel, Rob and Carlos head out to visit various growers. All are selected by Carlos who knows these suppliers personally and trusts them to consistently deliver top quality, true-to-name bulbs. More coffee is served, more bulb talk ensues, and Rob walks the fields with his camera and his notebook.

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Tulip ‘Pink Impression’ in the fields at Poldertuin.

In the Dutch language, “tuin” means “garden,” and “polder” defines a bit of land reclaimed from the sea. Stops on this trip include Poldertuin, a garden in the northern region of Anna Paulowna. This garden is used to showcase the bulbs produced by the growers of the region, like this stunning planting of Tulip ‘Pink Impression’.

The day Rob was to travel south happened to fall on what the Dutch call “King’s Day,” a nationwide celebration that generally corresponds to the birthday of its royal head of state, in this case, the April 27th birthday of King Willem-Alexander. Rob and his traveling companions woke extra early to get started before traffic would clog the roadways. “Don’t try to get a sandwich anywhere,” Rob jokes. About the only people working on King’s Day in Holland are the bulb growers whose seasonal business demands it.

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At the KAVB Test Garden, it’s possible to see first-hand how a plant changes and evolves.

At the display gardens run by KAVB (the Royal General Bulb Grower’s Association), “you get to compare the bloodlines,” Rob says. If the original version of a Tulip is, say, ‘Christmas Marvel,’ the KAVB gardens plant the original followed sequentially by all of its sports: Tulips ‘Christmas Carol,’ ‘Christmas Dream,’ ‘Christmas Cloud,’ and so on. Visitors are not generally granted access to this official location, but when accompanied by the right people for the right reasons, no one objects. The gardens are an incredible resource where it’s possible to see the variations between varieties. They’re also a terrific source for generating ideas for bulb mixes and combinations. Each sport blossoms at relatively the same time and grows to the same height as its parent, so combining a selection of ‘Christmas’ varieties, for example, will result in a beautiful and successful combo.

In Lisse and around the region, Rob next visits a series of test gardens where it’s possible to do close comparisons of certain varieties. They are a great place to go “if, for example, I want to look at Tulip ‘Candy Prince’ and Tulip ‘Purple Prince’ to see how they differ,” Rob says. The small beds, planted in a pretty patchwork in close proximity, are planted for just that purpose.

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One of the displays at the “always spectacular” Keukenhof gardens.

Each trip ends with a visit to the legendary Keukenhof. Gardeners and garden designers spend all year planning and planting the dazzling display, which runs for eight weeks only each spring. Last year, Keukenhof attracted 1.2 million visitors during the eight-week season. Bulb growers supply all of the bulbs, and the Keukenhof designer and his or her team set to work creating a captivating, colorful show. For Rob, a visit is “always spectacular,” and he makes notes and takes photos to record successful bulb combinations and design ideas. Some of the bulb combos are trialed back in Connecticut, an important step in ensuring they’ll succeed for customers. Bulbs that blossom simultaneously in Holland may not repeat the same magic in the United States, so trialing is the key. “You need to understand what the combination does here,” Rob says.

Because Rob’s traveling companions include members of the Keukenhof board of directors, he’s given special access to the gardens before they open to the public. In the early hours of the morning, when the light is just right, he’s able to take photographs without throngs of tourists in each shot. We don’t envy him the early wake-up call, but the images and the quiet moments in this amazing garden are the stuff of dreams.

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One of the design ideas on view at this spring’s Keukenhof display was the planting of Muscari in “waves.” Soil was piled in mounds, and white-flowering varieties were planted high with blue-flowering varieties below, creating the impression of cresting waves.

Seeing so many flowers in just a few days is dizzying, and the photographic record becomes an enormous help once Rob returns home. “After five or six days, you have a hard time seeing it all straight, but reviewing the images and notes allows you to boil down what should be tested and trialed back home, and it becomes very clear what we’d like to share with our customers.”

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Just after dawn at Keukenhof, there are no tourists, and the light is just right for photographs.

 

What’s Up?

It’s an exciting time in the garden. April’s below-average temperatures may have given all of us cause for concern, but it’s caused surprisingly few ill effects in the beds and borders. Plants of all types are shaking off their winter dormancy. Bulbs are sending up colorful blooms, and perennials and shrubs are breaking into bud, their emerging foliage like green flags that herald the new season. Our early blooming Daffodils, including ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation,’ timed its arrival to avoid one of April’s worst cold swings, and these robust growers held their heads high as the mercury continued to swing a bit ruthlessly throughout the month. Later bloomers, including radiant Narcissus ‘Pride of Lions,’ are presently putting on a splendid, weeks-long show.

Elsewhere, the fruits of the plotting and planning done last fall by our head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, are everywhere to be seen. The display gardens are full of new bulbs, new bulb combinations, and new planting ideas. Reliable old friends including Hostas and Astilbes are waking up to a new season. The reddish stems of Peonies are providing a colorful, contrasting backdrop for bulb blossoms of all types, and feathery Astilbe foliage, also with reddish tones, is creating an interesting carpet under the colorful blooms of Chionodoxa and dwarf Daffodils.

Part of being a successful gardener is developing a sensitivity to color. Cheryl continually plays with shadings in her plantings. In the photo above, she created a pairing using a subtle cool blue tone as the thread. The pink-red blossoms of Tulip ‘Portland’ find an echo in the icy blue flower spikes of Muscari armeniacum ‘Valerie Finnis.’

Here are a few more images from the garden in late April:

narcissus pride of lions_spring 2016

Narcissus ‘Pride of Lions’ is making us proud. The vivid yellow blossoms with orange cups rimmed in red held their heads up through spring’s tempests and temperature swings.

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This season we’re trialing Fritillaria imperialis ‘Beethoven,’ which blossomed promptly in late April,  its brick red flowers and distinctive form attracting all eyes.

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Another plant we’re trialing this season is Tulip ‘Ice Stick.’ What do you think?

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And another auditioning for our catalog is Tulip ‘Mary Ann.’ Cheryl planted it with Muscari armeniacum at its feet.

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In the raised beds where we often trial Tomato and other vegetable plants, Cheryl planted Tulip bulbs last fall to create spring cutting gardens. Each raised bed is designed to house a variety of Tulips that offer a succession of bloom. In each raised bed is at least one early bloomer, one mid-season selection, and one late bloomer. Here, a Parrot Tulip mixes with some Early Single and late Lily-flowering types. As each Tulip variety blossoms, there are flowers aplenty to fill vases. When blossom time passes, we’ll be doing what’s known as the Tulip-Tomato Tango. We’ll dig out the Tulip bulbs, compost them, and fill the empty raised beds with Tomato and vegetable plants. This time-honored “tango” is a terrific way to maximize use of garden space, and to get the best of what each growing season has to offer – beautiful cut flowers in spring, and tasty Tomatoes in summer and fall.