This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The time has arrived for those who expect to have flowers from hardy bulbs in Spring to look around for their bulbs in time for Fall planting. And as I have already offered my experience in their culture, it is seasonable to send it. Southern readers know that old Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina, does not lie among the mountains, but that it is a fine cotton growing section, and that every vegetable known to the temperate zone can be raised with more or less success there, and a great variety of soil is to be found within its borders. The grounds we cultivate as our "flower garden" is of a gravelly or rocky nature, a yellowish pipe-clay lying underneath from six to fifteen inches deep, more or less. The land slopes to the south-east; when new or fertilized it produces good crops of any of the kinds cultivated in this section, including Cotton, Corn, Wheat, Oats, Rye, sweet and Irish Potatoes and all kinds of garden vegetables.
As regards Hyacinths, my experience in raising them teaches me first, to make the ground rich. I use a spading fork to dig the ground; I have not gone lower than twelve inches, because of the presence of pipe-clay. I throw up the earth in beds about four or five feet wide, elevated five or six inches, with three feet space between and of any length desired, and plant bulbs five or six inches deep. I plant from the middle of October till the last of November, any time that suits me. I never work ground wet. Plant the bulbs about twelve inches apart, less will do, in the rows both ways; cover beds with any kind of good, well rotted manure one or two inches deep; clean out the walk between rows nicely, and the work is done. I have never put any kind of mulching on the beds that requires removing in Spring, and simply break the crust on the ground between the plants after they begin to come up, and then keep all weeds down. I do not think covering with straw, leaves or unrotted manure in Winter, to be taken off in Spring, is at all necessary in the South. I take up the bulb as soon as the leaves are yellow, last Spring this being on the 10th of May. I think any one who expects to have fine Hyacinth bulbs and blooms must put the ground in good condition and never leave the bulbs in the ground all Summer, nor plant in a grassy border to remain from year to year.
I remove all the little bulbs from the old one and plant them the same as the large ones. In two years they will make good bulbs, a large one sometimes throws up from three to five flowering spikes. The red kinds seem to be inclined in this way more than other kinds, and the single more than the double. Tulips I treat the same as Hyacinths, except that I do not plant more than three or four inches deep. Any one purchasing bulbs expecting to realize a fine display without attention, only subjects him or herself to a cruel disappointment. I do not raise bulbs and seeds for sale, only for home enjoyment and to give away. I have about one bushel of Hyacinth bulbs. I have bought of Vick, H. A. Dreer, Moulson & Sons, and many others.
I think that all disappointment in realizing our expectations in bulb-culture in the Southern States rests upon the theory of poor culture, or rather the want of thorough preparation before planting. I can hardly perceive how any one could fail to receive value for proper attention. Among the wrong practices is leaving the bulbs in the ground from year to year. I take them up as soon as they are ripe and dry them a few days in the shade, then strip off their tops and lay them away in a cool, dry place till needed.
[Our readers will remember that these excellent notes from practical experience come from the correspondent who sent us the wonderfully fine flowers last Spring. - Ed. G. M.]