T here is still plenty of time to dig in the garden before winter buttons things up and as long as the ground is not frozen solid you can transplant roses, move deciduous shrubs that have lost their leaves and add spring blooming bulbs that you find for bargain prices at home centers and garden stores.
Why not go for a whole new look this spring and plant some unusual bulbs now for novelty blooms in a few months? Here’s my vote for bulbs with personality that do well in Western Washington:
Allium or Flowering Onion
This is not the blooming onion you’ll be served at a restaurant — but these onions are a treat for the eyes. Alliums look like something from outer space when in bloom, which explains why a gardener once asked where to find “Alien bulbs” with the big round spheres for blooms.
Tall and dramatic when they flower in May and June, the starry blooms dry and persist most of the summer on tall stems. It has been become quite fashionable in some English gardens to use spray paint to add some color to the faded blooms of Alliums — bright silver the color of choice in one show garden we toured.
Plant the big alliums 6 to 8 inches deep in a spot where they will get full sun. If you have bulbs that disappear from rodents and deer, give alliums a try - the onion scent is a great pest repellent.
Another deer and rodent resistant bulb with unusual blooms on tall stems, frittilaria comes in many varieties — all a bit weird and wonderful looking. The Crown Imperial Frittilaria has up to ten clustered flowers hanging from a center whorl like umbrellas turned upside down.
A smaller variety, fritillillaria melagria is called the checkered lily or guinea hen flower because the bell-shaped blooms are bi-colored in a pattern that resembles a chess board — or the chest of a guinea hen if you happen to be familiar with chickens. This is a bulb you’ll want to enjoy as a cut flower, up close and personal.
Mt. Hood Daffodils
Who could resist a daffodil named after a mountain in the Northwest? The snow on top of Mt. Hood inspired the naming of this delightful daffodil that blooms with a pale yellow trumpet that soon turns to glistening, snow white as the flower matures. What I really like about Mt. Hood daffodils is that the white blooms last longer than traditional yellow daffodils.
Rock Garden Tulips
These short-stemmed tulips are more properly called species tulips and they are originally from the Mediterranean so they prefer a spot where the soil will be warm and dry in the summer - in our climate, that means plant them in a raised bed rock garden. Species tulips such as Tulip kaufmanniana ‘Ice Stick” and Tulip clusiana ‘Lady Jane” come with two-toned petals that appear as if bold stripes of pink or red paint had been applied to the creamy white flowers. “Pinocchio” with a long pointed nose — I mean bud, blooms in yellow and red and Tsar Peter has fabulous blooms yellow at the base, then feathered out cream, pink and red — really a royal flower fit for a king — or Russian Tsar.
You can find all of these unusual bulbs at local nurseries just sitting in open bins, waiting for you to bag up and take home. There is still time to order bulbs from mail order houses or online bulb growers but don‘t wait much longer.
It’s time to plant bulbs - can spring be far away?
Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.