This is a type of planting which can provide as many interesting flower effects as any annual, perennial, or shrub planting. It is the type of planting that provides flowers at a period of the year from late March until the latter part of May, when the garden and lawn are otherwise bare of flowers. The information concerning this group of plantings covering the possible types to be used, the effects to be obtained, and the care of the mature plants, has not been so freely distributed to the owners of our homes as it should have been. After the monotonous, uninteresting landscape presented by the lawn and garden areas in the vicinity of residences during the long winter months, these touches of flower effects are of double value as an introduction to the possibilities of the flowering shrubs and garden plants. So important is this subject that an entire chapter of this book, Chapter VI (Bulb Culture), has been devoted to the culture of bulbs.
It is the general impression that "bulbs are bulbs" for practically one use. It is not realized that such a wide variation exists in the purposes for which bulbs may be used and in the different types of bulbs which are used.
As a matter of fact, with the proper planting of bulbs, a continuous succession of flowers can be obtained during a normal season from the middle part of March, beginning with the crocuses and the early narcissi, extending through the early part of May, with the early tulips and the late narcissi, and ending with the Darwin tulips during the last part of May to be immediately followed by such garden flowers as the early iris, the columbine, the alyssum, and the lilac.
There are bulbs which are logically adapted to refined lawn and garden areas, bulbs which are adapted for naturalizing in woodlands and wild gardens, interesting combinations of bulbs, and types of bulbs valuable for forcing during the late winter months. The life of the average bulb under normal conditions is approximately three years after which time the bulbs must be replaced with new material; the only exception being that such bulbs as those of the crocus and three varieties of narcissi, Von Sion, Victoria, and the poet's, will continue to multiply under ideal conditions for a number of years, provided the tops are permitted to remain a sufficient time after flowering in order to ripen the bulb.
In the selection of bulbs for garden plantings we have practically the entire field from which to draw for material adapted to the refined lawn and garden planting. The degree of refinement depends largely upon our knowledge of the proper combinations of bulbs which will give interesting flower effects, flowers that appear at the same and at successive dates, and flowers of the same height. In making plantings of bulbs for lawn and garden effects careful attention should be given to the other groups showing narcissi for different locations, and the interesting tulip combinations.
One of the most interesting groups of bulbs is the group valuable for naturalization in woodland and wild garden areas. These bulbs must be of the kind that will continue to multiply without further care than is ordinarily given to such areas on the average estate. All of the bulbs in this list should, after being properly planted, grow in succeeding years into clumps through the increase of the small bulblets, and the mature plants should be almost as vigorous as during the first year or two after the bulbs were planted. In other words, they should not show a tendency to run out. Occasionally, unless conditions are ideal, such plants as the trillium and some of the lilies will continue to grow but will not multiply. This is a freak of plant life which those who have given considerable thought to experimenting in the naturalization of plants cannot fully explain. Many of the bulbs in this group such as the yellow lily leek, lily-of-the-valley, adder's tongue, and trillium, desire a great amount of shade. The other bulbs such as lilies, narcissi, squills, and tulips require more sunlight.
It is well to know the adaptations of different varieties of the narcissus. The writer has accordingly referred to this in passing, and we should bear closely in mind the fact that the poet's narcissus, with its varieties, is adapted to the heavy lower ground, while the large trumpet types are adapted to a rich, well-drained loam. The proper selection of combinations of bulbs for flowering effects, either simultaneous flowering or a succession of bloom, is one of the interesting studies in bulb plantings. So many extremely interesting effects can be obtained with a proper selection and planting, and so many uninteresting flowering effects can be avoided, that a few standard types of bulb combinations have been shown under this discussion. Bulbs are divided into the early-flowering types, most of which are single, and the late-flowering types among which are the Darwin tulips, most of which grow twice as tall as the early flowering. There are so many varieties of tulips and such a confusion of nomenclature that to lay down definite rules and to frame ironclad lists of bulbs would be futile. It is sufficient to suggest that bulbs for excellent plantings should be selected and grouped by an expert, or that sources of expert information should be consulted in order to insure the proper effects. So often, for example, yellow and white or orange and yellow tulips are planted for a combination of flower effect, when in reality one of the bulbs is of the early-flowering type and the other variety is of the late-flowering type, neither of which will be in bloom during the blooming period of the other. To avoid mistakes of this kind, and for the use of the amateur who has no ready access to the sources of information, nor the time to devote the necessary study to this question, a number of bulb combinations have been given which will serve to meet the average requirements. As a matter of fact, bulbs planted for their individual flowers fall far short of providing the most interesting effect. They should be planted for their mass effect and as an interesting combination of colour.
Bulbs may be planted either for a formal or for an informal and more natural effect. The first planting requires the stiff symmetrical lines of refined lawn and garden areas; the second effect requires the more informal, flowing lines, either of the refined lawn areas or of the informal garden areas. It is quite a matter of taste which of these effects should be desired. Many persons desire the conventional, uninteresting ribbon boundary bordering the edges of shrubbery, while others desire the more natural, scattered mass effect which gives here and there a spot of colour and a certain relief to the bare effect of the shrubbery plantings prior to the time of breaking their buds, and also to the ground underneath. It is important to know the time of flowering for various types of bulbs in order that the late-flowering types, such as the Darwin tulips, may not be scattered through a shrub planting of the bridal wreath spirea, or the early honeysuckle, where the full leaf effect will obscure the flower effect of the bulbs.
Not every variety of bulb is suitable for forcing purposes. A few varieties of bulbs are extremely suitable, while a few of the varieties of the crocus and of the Spanish iris can be forced successfully only under the most favourable conditions of heat and light. Some of the early tulips are preeminently good for forcing while some varieties are not adapted to this method of growing them. Many of the cottage tulips and nearly all the Darwins can be used successfully. All hyacinths, some more than others, and many narcissi are satisfactory. But before trying varieties not named in the list one should consult a reliable trade catalogue. For early forcing particular care should be used to select large, plump bulbs.