Fall is a wonderfully time of year to enjoy your garden and for bulb beginnings! Not only are flowers still in bloom without the heat of the hot summer sun, but here in Ontario Canada we enjoy the colourful changing of the tree leaves. Certainly the marvelous Maple shows its yellow, orange and red leaves as the last stage of the life of a leaf. Sumac trees and shrubbery radiate red in their long finger like leaves as does the burning bush ( aka Winged Euonymous alata)
From trees to small garden perennials, the leaves that are leaving us…do so in a blaze of glory. Even some annuals show off their foliage as I witness first hand at my cottage this past weekend. In fact, intent on cleaning up the garden and cutting down the bare stalks of cone-flowers and other garden favourites, I headed out with spade in hand.
Like many a fall or autumn day, the weather gave up another bright sunny day and the plants untimely death was postponed. Not only could I not bring myself to trim things back as cottage season comes to a close, but I finally prepared to plant the most widely planted fall perennial… spring flowering bulbs , purchased several weeks ago.
Bulbs bust out of the garden along the sunny side garden in mass. Even the front garden has its share of purple, white and a few red tulips. Several years ago I planted white, pink and purple Hyacinths along the darker side of the house there and each year since they have burst in to wonderful bloom. Today I planted White Narcissus and purple Grape hyacinth spring bulbs whose proper name is Muscari.
With each bulb planted, I began to wonder where they originated and what family they were from. Basic research revealed that a vast number of bulbs such as tulips and crocus actually originated in Turkey before they were moved and in some cases stolen. Often research and exploration led to removal and relocation in some cases leading to extinction in the natural habitats.
I was surprised to read that Turkey had areas stripped of bulbous plants, and that tulips were not all from Holland originally. Certainly as usual this fact led me to dig deeper in to the origins of two of the more commonly found spring flowering bulbs.
There are many spring flowering bulbs that are planted in the fall, but probably one of the most recognized is the Tulip. Tulips belong to the Liliaceae Family, Genus Tulipa, and have at least 109 species. They are found in Turkey and are indigenous to mountainous areas there as well as in central Asian countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically the Pamir Mountains.
Under the Ottoman Empire, which was founded in Turkey approximately 1299, commercial cultivation of the flower began. Approximately when the empire reached its peak at 1590 covering parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, tulips began to arrive in northwestern Europe. There is some confusion as to who introduced them to European but it was definitely politically connected and took place approximately 1559.
By 1573 tulips were seen planted in Vienna in several garden, eventually via private gardens the bulbs made it to the Netherlands officially in 1594. For many years the bulbs were cultivated but on such a small scale that eventually they became highly coveted and a Tulip Mania began. This mania peaked 1636-37 when bulb trading costs were reportedly higher than a tradesman’s yearly salary! Despite the high prices, tulips changed hands rapidly, until the trade ground to a halt and commercial cultivation on large scale began.
Crocus, another widely popular spring flowering perennial flower actually grows from corms. From the Iridaceae ( Lily) Family, genus Croci with 80 species, these flowering plants are native to woodland, scrub and meadows in Central and Southern Europe. They are also native to, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to western China. Like the tulip, crocuses were also native to areas of Turkey.
Cultivation and harvesting of crocus was first documented in the Mediterranean, notably on the island of Crete. The first crocus seen in the Netherlands, where crocus species are not native, were from corms brought back in the 1560’s from Constantinople by the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador and by 1620, new garden varieties had been developed. Slowly from there commercial cultivation began and these plants also spread across the world.
Bulbs and Corms present day
Thankfully with hybridization, research and mass growing fields bulbs of most types are economically priced. Worldwide gardeners can certainly enjoy the blooms of perennial bulbs, whether they are spring blooming such as those in Canada and the United States.
For those of you who live in tropical areas or those who are above Zone 9 or who do not have the required temperatures of approximately 0-4 degrees C, tulips and many other spring bulbs would have to be forced in the refrigerator. Of course, if your country has a mountainous region, such as Turkey, where most of the tulips, crocus and other spring bulbs originated, naturalized planting and garden planting may both be possible.
While there are a great many things to consider when planting bulbs, even the new garden can successfully plant for a wonderful spring bloom filled garden. As with most plants, the sun, soil and nutrients are all factors to be considered and knowing your garden’s details will help you when purchasing individual bulbs at local garden centres. Certainly the staff there will be happy to assist you if the information on each bulb display does not have all the information you need.
Even local supermarkets often sell packages of bulbs in their florist area or even within the produce section. Usually there is printed information on these packages stating planting depth, light requirements, planting depth and plant height when in bloom.
My next article will cover all the basic information any gardener would need to plant these lovely perennials. In addition I would be happy to answer any questions left for me under Comments.
Before long, armed with your trusty garden tools , helpful information and enthusiasm, your hard work will be rewarded in the Spring, with an inspirational flowering garden to be proud of!