Denver Botanic Gardens has spring fever, even though the autumnal equinox nears. That’s because tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other quintessential spring flowers begin in autumn with the burying of a flower bulb. Denver Botanic Gardens will host a fall plant and bulb sale September 25 and 26, and will offer free admission at the Denver complex. Members of Denver Botanic Gardens will receive a 10 percent discount on all purchases.
Against all odds of sub-zero winter, spring-flowering bulbs deliver spectacular color and form. Though bulbs resemble some sort of nut, they flower in myriad sizes, shapes and colors. Crocuses are among the first flowers to bloom as winter ebbs. Tulips provoked “tulipmania” in the 1600s, when a single coveted bulb sold for the equivalent of a wealthy merchant’s annual income. Daffodils inspired the Romantic British poet William Wordsworth to write “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” And for many the perfume from a hyacinth is a long-awaited heady blessing of springtime.
Some bulbs, including hyacinths and paperwhite narcissus, can easily be forced to bloom indoors. Forced bulbs offer the balm of spring during the dead of winter. Purchase bulbs now, give them a chance to chill out for a while in your basement or garage, then poke them into a pot of soil. Or use forcing glasses to let them bloom with water alone – possible because each bulb contains not only the flower but the food it needs to flourish.
With a bit of care, of course. But bulbs typically are not difficult to grow. That is, if you can keep squirrels and other varmints from eating them. Gardeners do well to amend soil and might want to add blood meal or other bulb fertilizer when planting bulbs. Once planted, many bulbs will multiply and spread–a process known as naturalizing. Many tulips are treated as annuals along the Front Range, where gardeners simply yank out tulips after the blooms have withered and faded.
Bulbs are beautiful in flowerbeds and borders, but you can plant them under deciduous trees, too, where other sun-loving plants won’t grow in the shade of the canopy. Though bulbs appreciate sunshine, trees won’t yet have their leaves when the bulbs most need the full sun. And what looks more charming that a tree with a petticoat of spring-flowering bulbs? Typically, mass plantings of bulbs have enormous impact, but many bulb companies will recommend perfect companion plantings.
Two reliable bulb sources with wide selections are John Sheepers and White Flower Farm. Carefully calibrated plantings of bulbs will ensure a dramatic succession of blooms from earliest the first crocus unfurling in spring through the late-blooming tulips that usher in summer. For gardeners, planting bulbs each autumn is an act of hope.