You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. – Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet
Ideally spring bulbs should be planted in late October to mid-November. Often do we find ourselves spending more time in garden cleanup or are simply victims of procrastination. And sometimes it can be too irresistible to purchase bulbs heavily discounted at garden centers and nurseries, and lavish plantings of tulips and other bulbs treated as ‘annuals’ can be realized without being cost-prohibitive. Last year I bought several dozen tulips that created a splendid display in my parents’ garden. Late bulb planting has the advantage of allowing you to see clearly where they can be planted after the beds have been tidied up. Although one can run the risk of snow and unseasonally cold temperatures, bulbs can be planted as long as the ground is not frozen solid. Some of the bulbs may be slightly mildewed or moldy, but provided that they’re still firm, they are not lost causes. Planting them in the ground usually eliminates the problem, and the bulbs generally emerge flowering none the worse for wear in spring. ~Eric
“I shall find the black tulip,” said Cornelius to himself whilst detaching the suckers. I shall obtain the hundred thousand guilders offered by the Society.” (La Noire Tulipe by Alexandre Dumas)
The fact that black, like blue, is commonplace in our contemporary lives, but rare in the natural world is a beguiling one. Black diamonds, black orchids, and black roses have that particular mystique and cachet. What we perceive as black in flowers is purple that verges on the darker end of the spectrum close to black. Late to flower, usually in May, black tulips seem a dark afterthought to the earlier tulips in softer and warmer hues, like the arrival of the evil fairy Maleficient at Sleeping Beauty’s christening pageant. They are difficult to place in the garden, deadening plantings if not carefully paired with zingier colors. When cut and admired closer in a vase, black tulips are a sensual treat magnified by the inky blue stamens and white edges revealed after the petals come apart.
This native trio at Jenkins Arboretum, which includes Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple), Packera aurea (golden ragwort), and Allium tricoccum (ramps), demonstrates the success of intermingling for foliage effect – the wheel-like Podophyllum leaves appear to pirouette across the planting, the lance-like Allium leaves add linearity, and scalloped leaf margins of Packera is a textural piece de resistance. More so is the green monotony broken up by the mottling of the Podophyllum leaves and the yellow flowers of Packera. The three plants knit together for a effective weed suppressing planting.
Only Packera aurea will persist for the remaining season after Allium and Podophyllum have gone underground.
Delphiniums incite reverence for their crystalline blues, purples, and whites rare in the floral world. They seem even rarefied when their temperament is best appeased in cool, cloudy climates. Countless gardeners have coddled delphiniums with variable success – some, including myself, enduring heartbreak at seeing flowering stems broken from wind and rain or the plants succumbing to summer heat, while others stand elated, like proud parents at their children’s graduation.
North America is home to approximately sixty species, most of which are found in the West Coast and Interior West (Flora of North America Vol. 3). Here in eastern Pennsylvania, we grow Delphinium tricorne. Our native species may not have the wattage power of its gargantuan cousins, yet its deep blue to violet hue more than compensates in intensity. Even a solitary plant can steal the scene in the crowded spring arena. They inhabit deciduous and sloped woodlands, moist ravines, and partially shaded rock sides throughout eastern U.S. (from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and outwards to Minnesota). Their flowering coincides with trilliums, shooting stars (Dodecatheon), foamflowers (Tiarella), and phlox (Phlox divaricata and P. stolonifera), all of which enjoy the same moist woodland conditions. At Mt. Cuba Center, Greenville, Delaware, drifts of D. tricorne are planted with Polemonium reptans (Jacob’s ladder), the lighter grey-purple of the latter setting off the iridescent violet of the former.
Like other spring ephemerals, D. tricorne disappears in summer until the following spring. The tuberous rootstock allows the plant to withstand drought and multiply vegetatively via offsets. Seed, which resemble tiny black beads, can be harvested in early summer. They require stratification and seedlings should be left in the containers before they are large enough to transplant individually in pots or in the garden.
Flowering cheerfully now, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Linnaeus) T. Fukuhara (bleeding heart) is such a traditional cottage garden favorite in Europe and North America that its Far Eastern origin (China, North Korea, and Russia) comes as a surprise. It is considered one of the Scottish plant explorer Robert Fortune’s most successful re-introductions in 1846, although several years would pass until the plant was considered hardy enough outdoors (the Victorians would cultivate L. spectabilis as a cool conservatory pot plant for display). Fortunately its cultivation was and is undemanding – plants are happy in a partial shady site and moist well-drained soil. Because L. spectabilis retreats into summer dormancy, it calls for plant partners that cover the vacated space. An excellent companion would be Brunnera macrophylla (forget-me-not) with its broad heart-like leaves and airy dots of blue flowers that coincide with the bleeding heart flowers. Hostas and ferns are good as well, expanding their foliage as L. spectabilis begins to die down.
The distinctive flowers no doubt invoke ‘bleeding hearts’ and surely inspired people in their fanciful writings and art. Edward Lear somewhat appropriated the floral structure for his nonsensical cartoon entitled ‘Manypeeplia upsidedownia’.
Edward Lear’s “Manypeeplia upsidownia” from Nonsense Botany (1871)
Although ‘Manypeelia upsidownia’ will remain only in our fantasy realm, several variants exist in cultivation – ‘Alba’ or ‘Pantaloons’ has pure white flowers that have enlighten many a woodland garden. ‘Gold Heart’ originated as a sport at the late Hadpsen Garden, Somerset, and takes the show farther with its yellow foliage. Some gardeners may find the pink and yellow rather strident, although the colors are rather striking in my opinion, inspiring me to plant dark pink or purple tulips. Nori and Sandra Pope used Tulipa ‘Greuze’ to pop forth from ‘Gold Heart’ at Hadpsen. Another chance find from Phyllis and Lyle Sarrazin in British Columbia is ‘Hordival’ (sold under Valentine Red), considered a significant color break in its dark red flowers and stems and gray-green leaves. Tulipa ‘Flaming Spring Green’ or ‘Jan Reus’ would be good tulips for ‘Hordival’.