Why do I grow tulips in the woods?
I started growing tulips, and other spring bulbs, because I was living in a low-water situation. Ten people on a 2 ½ gpm well. For those of you not familiar with wells, that’s not a lot of water for ten people, especially if they have gardens. Several times a summer, the tank would run dry, leading to tight-lipped (sometimes not so tight) comments about whoever had let the hose run or the faucet leak. A snippy irascible atmosphere settled over the land. For half a day or more, we lived dirty, with dry faucets and hoses.
I was the last person to arrive, so I knew that any garden I had would have to be very low-water.
At first I planted natives and herbs, favorite friends of mine for a long time. Natives, of course, are bred for my rainfall and climate. Mediterranean plants come from the same kind of climate, where it doesn’t rain in summer. So they are also excellent allies in low-water gardens.
Herbs are great, but I began hankering after flowers. As usual, I turned to my stacks of catalogues and books to research. And what I found – one of the great “duh” revelations of my life – was that most of the popular spring bulbs were either Mediterranean, or California natives. Which meant they didn’t need any extra water from me.
What are the bulbs that fall in these categories?
Well, of couse, tulips
and narcissus (a daffodil is a narcissus, but not all narcissi are daffodils)
calochortus of various species, some of which are sold in major bulb catalogues, some of which can be found only in specialty catalogues, or grown from seed.
crocus (both the species and larger, showier kinds)
and a number of others, including alliums, ornithogalum, tritelia, and scilla.
There are some bulbs whose genus includes both bulbs that like moisture and bulbs that can handle a lot of drought (fritillaries, iris, and lilies are some), but you can’t go wrong with the ones I’ve pictured above. They love drainage and hate summer water, and if you grow them in pots, the way I do, you can move them out of the way when the foliage starts to wither.
There really are 1001+ ways to save water with spring bulbs, if you count all their different species, varieties, and cultivars. If you plan carefully, you can have a feast of beautiful, low- to no-water flowers for months, and get them back the next year.
And now is a great time to buy bulbs. (If you don’t know where to buy them, check out my Spring Bulb Shopping series for some of the places I think are the best.) Some catalogues are still offering discounts for early orders, and the selection is the fullest it will ever be.
Low-water gardens can be beautiful, floriferous and yes, even lush. Bulbs will lighten your mood, enchant children and neighbors, and put tiny bits of glorious other dimensions into your life. Get bulbs. You’ll be glad you did.