From My Home to Yours: Planting Spring-Blooming Blue Flowers at Bedford
On my TV show, I had the opportunity to meet extraordinary experts involved in all kinds of endeavors. I learned about so many types of plants and saw so many gardens, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent showcasing the specific talents of the people involved. I got so excited when I met the team from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center (director Sally Ferguson did a segment on blue-flowering bulbs). By the time the taping was finished, we had come up with the idea to ask Dutch garden designer Jacqueline van der Kloet to help me with the underplanting of my linden allee at Bedford using a wonderful assortment of blue-flowering, successively blooming bulbs from Dutch growers. The International Flower Bulb Centre's technical director, Frans Roozen, offered to come to the United States with the bulbs. He and Jacqueline made sure that the varieties of bulbs would provide the desired blue effect for the longest span of time.
Ahead, see how we completed our project together—and here, discover what we learned. These steps will ensure a spectacular flower display and offer years of beauty and enjoyment. When it's time order your bulbs, do so from a reputable supplier, and check with the seller that what you are ordering will provide the desired effect (for example, a good bloom sequence). As for readying your garden beds? Prepare the bed to be planted before the bulbs arrive. Dig into soil with a trowel, and pull the trowel toward you to create a hole slightly deeper than your desired planting depth. (Plant small bulbs three inches deep in warmer areas or five inches deep in colder ones; larger bulbs six inches or eight inches deep. Incorporate composted material and bulb food for added nutrients.
Plant on a cool day when the earth is slightly damp but still friable. Bulbs need soil that drains well. Don't try to plant in mud or ultra-dry earth. Enlist the help of a friend so that the entire area can be planted on the same day to ensure a unified look and proper density of planting. Once planted, top the bed with a thin layer of rich compost, and water the area well. If adding ground covers or perennials such as hellebores, do so while planting the bulbs to avoid disturbing the bed later.
A Way with Bulbs
At our worktable, we assembled our "batterie de jardin"—all the tools needed for planting 115,000 bulbs. With me are Dutch garden designer Jacqueline van der Kloet and Frans Roozen, the International Flower Bulb Centre's technical director.
Waves of Blue
When massed together, these six species of miniature spring bulbs—which are the varieties we used to adorn the allee—make a grand statement over a period of six to eight weeks.
(1) Grecian Windflower (Anemone blanda): Scores of daisy-like flowers pop up in early to mid-spring. Soak the dry tubers overnight in water before planting them; (2) Glory of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae): White starlike centers accent each pristine pale-blue flower; (3) Grape Hyacinth (Muscari 'Valerie Finnis') This vigorous variety is the palest blue of its family; (4) Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica): Tiny multi-stemmed flowers of electric blue sit atop thick, glossy leaves; (5) Woodland Crocus (C. tommasinianus): Lilac-blue trumpets open best in full sun, so keep that in mind when planting these eager naturalizers; and (6) Grape hyacinth (M. latifolium): Eccentric and sturdy two-tone blue-black flowers stay upright for a longer period than their cousins.
The Garden Sketch
Here, Jacqueline's rough garden sketch of the linden allee, the chosen location for the mass planting of blue-flowering bulbs. The linden allee goes from an entrance gate to the stable complex; the gravel road is edged with Belgium block.
Unpacking the Bulbs
The Dutch-grown bulbs were shipped in plastic mesh bags. We unpacked each variety and inspected them to make sure they were healthy. We were happy to see that they were all in pristine condition.
Combining the Bulbs
We combined the anemone, crocus, grape hyacinth, scilla, bluebell, and chionodoxa bulbs in a wheelbarrow so they could be mixed up gently by hand, using fewer of the large bulbs and more of the small varieties.
Jacqueline showed us her special technique of lightly tossing handfuls of the premixed bulbs on the surface of the border instead of planting in strict traditional blocks of color. This random approach is the key to her naturalistic style.
By the Handful
It is not easy to plan such a massive planting undertaking, and I am sure I would have underestimated the quantities of bulbs needed for the borders along the path. But with the advice of Jacqueline and Frans, everything worked out beautifully, and that year's spring blooms were even better than I could have hoped for. And, every spring is better than the last because each of the species chosen is known for its "multiplier" effect—they all multiply prodigiously, and seemingly effortlessly, year after year.
Here, we each got a great deal of pleasure distributing the bulbs on top of the allee's well-prepared beds.
Planting the Bulbs
With a trowel, the bulbs are planted individually or in small clusters, with the small bulbs planted five inches deep and the larger bulbs eight inches deep. Our visiting experts told us not to worry about planting each bulb right side up; they orient themselves naturally.
Blues in Bloom
After "watering in" the newly planted bulbs and waiting through winter, I was treated to a beautiful months-long display in the spring, starting with the first crocuses.