October is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs, and after cold grey Fall and Winter days, there is nothing that lifts the heart like a burst of color starting as early as February and going right through April. And spring bulbs are so easy!
The most popular early daffodil is the miniature Tete a Tete, growing to only 6-8 inches and forming slightly larger clumps every year. They really do start in late February and bloom for six weeks, and I have them dotted here and there throughout the garden, along paths and in the front of beds.
You can then plan an overlapping sequence of daffodils such as early-flowering Dutch Master, mid-season Flower Carpet, and late-season Standard Value. For gorgeous fragrance and a charmingly different look, plant Yellow (or original white) Cheerfulness. All these are available, in bulk (25 bulbs or more) or in smaller numbers, from our very own Mount Vernon-based grower RoozenGarde (website – Tulips.com), and also at local nurseries. Daffodils also come in pure white, white and yellow, white and orange, and even a pretty peachy-pink and white, for those looking for some variety. For even more variety, and for those who just fall in love with daffodils like I have done, check out OldHouseGardens.com and their online catalogue of heirloom bulbs, including varieties that are hundreds of years old.
Rabbits are not interested in daffodils, but they are horribly interested in tulips, as are squirrels. Rabbits eat the buds, and squirrels dig up the bulbs, so I have pretty much given up on them, but clearly many other gardeners don’t suffer from my excessive wildlife problem as pretty tulips abound around here. Ciscoe Morris says to plant them 12 inches deep to protect them from our wet winters. Many are tender and don’t come back year after year, but some do (wildlife permitting) such as the big Darwin hybrids. A yellow Darwin hybrid has actually come back for me year after year and so far has not been squirrel fodder, but my squirrel population has exploded this year so we will see what happens in spring.
Hyacinths are underused in the US but much more popular in Britain, and I have dozens of fragrant hyacinths in my backyard. On a sunny spring day the fragrance is glorious. Just check you are buying fragrant ones (it should say on the packet).
Very important footnote: leave the bulb leaves on for 6 weeks after the flowers fade, to feed the bulb for the following year. Then you can cut them back, chop them up, and drop them on your flower bed for free mulch. And don’t forget to mark where you planted them so you don’t dig them up by accident (like me) or plant a large shrub on top (ditto).
Jacqueline Houston is a member of the Wedgewood Garden Club, and also a Master Gardener of King County. She has been gardening in Seattle for over 30 years. Wedgewood Garden Club always welcomes new members – contact Jacqueline at email@example.com for more information on our monthly meetings.