I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er dale and hill,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils.
— “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth
Flowering bulbs have inspired some of the greatest works of literature, from Wordsworth’s poem about hillsides of daffodils, to frequent mentions in the Bible (lilies). Whether planned by a gardener’s hand, or naturally growing along roadsides and fields, an expanse of flowering bulbs is a sight of incredible beauty. Anyone can bring these same delights into the home garden — you don’t need an acre or hillside of flowers to make a lasting visual impact. A small, but well-planned drift or mass of flowering bulbs will brighten any yard. But you do need to purchase them soon to make it happen.
The term “bulb” can carry various meanings. Botanically speaking, “bulb” refers to a specific type of underground stem that is compressed or flattened, surrounded by leaf-like structures called scales. There is usually a shoot and flower bud within the scales. Daffodils, tulips and lilies are examples of true bulbs.
For gardeners, the term “bulb” includes a broader category of plants, loosely including any underground storage organ from which shoots and flowers emerge. “Corms” lack the scales of bulbs, but are also short, compressed stems with buds from which leaves and flowers emerge. Gladiolus, crocosmia and crocus are some plants produced from corms.
Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems. Cannas, achimenes and many irises are common representatives of this group.
Tuberous plants are yet another group of underground storage organ. Caladiums, calla lily and dahlias are included in this group.
Flowering bulbs (a term used loosely in this article) can enhance your yard from late winter all the way to first freeze. One of the first heralds of spring in the South are the early-blooming narcissus and paper-whites, filling the air with heady fragrance sometime as early as late December and early January. Next are the many daffodil and narcissus varieties perfectly adapted to our area that come back year after year, blooming from February through March and even into April and May. Flowers range from the bold, large trumpet types to the petite, sweetly fragrant jonquils commonly gracing East Texas roadsides.
Iris bloom in mid-spring and there are many types adapted to our area including bearded or German iris, dwarf crested iris and Louisiana iris, to name a few.
Crinums begin blooming in late spring, and continue to bloom off and on throughout summer. Crin-um lilies produce large fountains of foliage from very large, drought-tolerant bulbs. Tall stalks topped with fragrant clusters of lily-like flowers bloom over a long period of time, and can range in color from pure white, to rose and wine colored flowers, plus striped varieties, giving rise to the common name “milk-and-wine” lilies.
The return of school days is announced with the various rain lilies, so named due to their habit of bursting into bloom shortly after a welcome late summer rain. Many bloom off and on from mid-summer through fall. Oxblood lilies, schoolhouse lilies, surprise lilies, naked ladies and spider lilies are among the common names for various members of late summer and fall blooming group of bulbs.
Most bulbs and similar plants are so tough they can survive for decades with no care whatsoever. It is common to find crinums, Johnson’s amaryllis, narcissus, lycoris and rain lilies blooming up a storm in country cemeteries, miles from a water hose, gracing markers often more than 100 years old. Long-disappeared and forgotten walks, paths, flower borders, and foundations from ancient home sites can be easily identified in spring when the almost indestructible narcissus continue to brightly mark the former owner’s garden.
Spring-blooming bulbs should be bought as soon as they are available in the fall. Waiting for “bargain” bulbs after they have been picked over is not a bargain. The best bargains are to buy bulbs early in the fall when dealers are offering their best prices, selection and quality. The Master Gardener Bulbs and More sale is a great place to get quality bulbs known to thrive in our area.
The Smith County Master Gardener Association, a volunteer program of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Smith County, is sponsoring the annual Bulbs and More and Fall Conference this Saturday at Harvey Convention Center.
Registration is free and opens at 8:30 a.m. The program starts at 9 a.m. with Dave Whitinger, creator of the popular Dave’s Garden website (now owned by a California software company) and allthingsplants.com. Whitinger also is a Cherokee County Master Gardener and a farmer, and will share his “50 Best Tips for Gardening.” There will be time at the end of his talk to ask questions.
Merlin Eck will continue with a preview of the bulb varieties and many other plants offered in the sale. Plant sale begins at 11:30 a.m., and choice plants are quickly scarfed up.
Proceeds benefit the educational programs sponsored by Smith County Master Gardeners and the horticulture program of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexas Gardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/etg.