This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
Bulbs may be introduced with effect along the confines of grounds and in out-of-the-way places, just on the borderland of the cultivated and the uncultivated, in the shade of trees, along winding paths here and there - in such a way as not to mar the natural effect desired in such surroundings. In such places, crocuses, lilies-of-the-valley, narcissi, snowflakes, scillas, trilliums, snowdrops, chionodoxas, hemerocallis, funkias, lilies, etc., blend in perfect harmony with their environments.
An appropriate and very effective place for planting bulbs is on the lawn. Such bulbs as crocuses and Scilla amœna, a very early flowering variety, are preeminently adapted for this purpose. They look best when planted in irregular patches here and there, as if they came up naturally - a patch of the yellow in one place, the blue in another, the white in another, and again the purple. Chionodoxas, winter aconite, snowdrops, tri-teleias and bulbocodiums are useful for this method of planting, and very appropriate. They may be planted with a dibber; or the sod can be removed, the bulbs placed in position, and the sod replaced. They bloom early, and mature before the grass needs cutting in spring, so the lawn effect is not marred.
First in importance among hardy bulbs I should place the hyacinths. Much has been written about putting them in position in the bed and then covering them with soil, putting sand under them, etc., but in actual practice these slow and laborious methods are not essential to success. If, however, the planter prefers to follow the more laborious - and possibly surer - method, then remove five or six inches of the top soil and cover the surface of the soil where the bulbs are to be set with an inch of sand. One advantage of this method is that it enables the planter to accurately place the bulbs in position as to depth and distance apart, so that the effect at flowering time is more regular as a whole than if planted with the dibber. The layer of sand has its advantage, inasmuch as it provides drainage at the base of the bulbs and minimises the chances of decay from contact with manure in the soil and from water lodging immediately beneath them. The writer has seen good beds of bulbs obtained by both methods, but the last one described is possibly the surer one.
(Narcissus Van Sion) Double golden daffodll.
Tulips in a formal bed, showing the strength and simplicity that result from planting only one variety in a place.
The ground having been made ready, as previously described, and marked off for the various sorts if a design is to be planted, all that is necessary is to use a blunt stick and make a hole large enough to receive the bulb and deep enough to have the crown three to four inches below the surface, and place the bulb in it. Cover the bulbs, smooth off the bed, and the work is done. The proper distance for planting is six inches apart. The hyacinth referred to here is the common "Dutch" kind so familiar to all. They can be obtained in separate colours or in special named varieties. They are in two leading classes - single- and double-flowered. For garden planting the single-flowered sorts are to be preferred, as they are more graceful and the spikes are not as heavy, so they stand up better. It may be found necessary to support the flower-spikes with light sticks.
Next to the hyacinth in importance comes the tulip. The directions for planting the hyacinth apply to the tulip also. There is a greater variety of these than in the hyacinth - single and double, early and late, tall and dwarf; beware of getting them mixed in the same bed. The leading dealers now offer a class of "bedding tulips," and these, generally speaking, are the best to plant in beds. An effective method which has recently come into vogue for planting tulips and hyacinths is to cut fancy scroll designs out of the sod, wide enough to hold two or three rows, and plant the bulbs to follow the design.
A bed of squills covered with leaves for the winter.
The same bed in bloom.
The tulips known tinder the general title of bedding varieties do not embrace the late-flowering sorts - those which bloom in May and which are in bloom generally at Decoration Day. These latter are quite distinct in every way from the former; they grow taller and have larger flowers. They should be planted in large masses to obtain the best effects, but even singly or in small groups they are distinct and showy.
As cut flowers they are superior to the earlier varieties on account of their longer stems and greater substance, remaining a week in good condition after being cut. They are very hardy, and may be left where they are planted; in fact, they improve each season. This type is generally known as Darwin tulips.
A group of crocuses.
Narcissi come next in importance. The varieties of this prime favourite are "too numerous to mention." Suffice it to say that, for general planting, the sorts embraced under the general head of daffodils, with the white-flowered poet's narcissus, are the best. From four to eight inches apart, according to the variety and size of the bulb, are the proper distances for planting. These are especially adapted for planting in mixed borders, among hardy herbaceous plants, between shrubbery, and along walks and drives. They thrive in almost any soil or situation, although they attain greater perfection when liberally treated. The best place for them is in a thoroughly drained, moderately rich, friable soil in which is a fair amount of sharp sand or sandy leaf mould. If the soil is not thus constituted naturally, it will amply reward the planter to thus prepare it. Where it is at all possible, a position should be selected for planting them where they will be shaded by trees or a building, as the flowers on the whole will be larger, and, above all, they will remain in perfection for a greater period, than if planted in an exposed position where they get the full rays of the sun. They should be planted so that the crown of the bulb is three inches below the surface.