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More Succession with Bulbs: ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ Iris and Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’


Every fall I have more bulbs than I have pots, so every fall I compute the relative blooming time and size of bulbs in an attempt to cram as many bulbs as possible in each pot, and buy as few pots as possible.  Every pot with large bulbs in it has room at the top for small bulbs, if you can work the combinations and the bloom times right. Then you get two shows from the same container.

Hyacinths are big bulbs, buried deep, but I’d always considered them to be so early that there was no point in planting anything in with them. Planting hyacinths with something else was equally problematic: hyacinths are too big to put in with tulips, they’d get in each other’s way.  You can’t put them with lilies, because the lilies will want water later in the season, and the hyacinths need to be dry.  So I just planted hyacinths by themselves.

The older hyacinth varieties I grow perennialize really well for me, so I had a number of pots with open real estate, as it were, if only I could figure out how to use it. In the last few years, I’d been experimenting with more small, early-spring bulbs, and it gradually dawned on me that some of them bloomed significantly before hyacinths. So they could get their flowers out without being overshadowed by looming hyacinth foliage. At least that was what I hoped

The suspense is gone out of this narrative, because the picture at the top of the post shows you it’s working. But the experiment has also unfolded another, unphotographed, secret of succession.

‘Katherine Hodgkins’ came out this year just as Iris danfordiae was fading. Since I’d just planted the I. danfordiae this year, and Katherine Hodgkins is in its second year, they may bloom farther apart next year. (Bulbs tend to come up later in their first season than they do in subsequent years – assuming they last.)

That means I’m making progress in my attempts to line up a couple of months’ worth of irises.  So far, I have Sylvia’s Iris unguicularis  ‘Mary Bernard’, which will bloom in winter, well before Iris danfordiae. ( Iris reticulata might fit between the two.) Then comes ‘Katherine Hodgkin’. I still need to fill in the gaps, never mind sorting out the later-blooming bulbous iris types to keep irises in my garden as long as possible. Meanwhile, I’ll need to work out how to keep them perennial. This is a project that could keep me happy for years.


{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Grace March 3, 2009, 5:28 pm

    Hi. Thank you for visiting my blog. I love your bulb layering. It’s one of those projects that delays gratification. I bet you’re a copious note-taker. My favorite bulb iris is our native Pacific coast iris. I dug up a clump from a roadside. (I know…I know…but developers have their eyes on it.) I planted them in my sun-drenched rock garden and they’ve done very well. The trick is to leave them alone. I suppose they survive so well in nature for that very reason–no humans to pamper them. :)

    The brugmansia: I’m very lucky to have a nursery nearby that sells small plants cheap. I got two brugmansias last year, about six inches high for about $4.00. The one pictured, I left in the ground under a pile of leaves to see if it will winter over. My dahlias survive just fine every year but this year has been pretty wacky so who knows. Isn’t Catmint fun? I love her and other down under sites.

  • Pomona Belvedere March 3, 2009, 5:41 pm

    Busted – I am indeed a copious note-taker. But they say it takes one to know one…

    You know, it’s funny, I adore our native iris (we have the inland version), and make a point to go out and look at it every year, but never thought of growing it (well, there are a few around already, but I could collect seed). I think it’s entirely legitmate to collect a plant if it’s going to go under the bulldozer; there are so many I hesitated on out of ethics and now am sorry about, as they have been lost. (I do think if you don’t reckon your chances of helping the plant survive are good, you should call in somebody who knows how. But you clearly do, so that’s not an issue.)

    Dahlias survive fine for me but not brugmansias, more’s the pity: if I got my choice, it’d be brugmansias all the way. Yes, catmint’s blog is fun and always interesting, she covers so many different aspects of the garden world.

  • Sylvia (England) March 4, 2009, 3:56 am

    Pomona, I am glad you got Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Bernard’ mine has got even better as the winter has gone on. This iris definitely gets better each year. I really must try ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ next year. Are all your iris in pots? In my pots I usually put crocus with dwarf daffodils and early and late flowering tulips together. Thinking about it I have had both combination in the borders as well, though the late tulips didn’t flower last year – there are leaves coming up this year but don’t think I will get flowers as it was a cold, grey and wet summer last year.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Pomona Belvedere March 4, 2009, 2:31 pm

    I like the idea of crocus with dwarf daffodils, and am intrigued by the planting of late tulips with early ones. I’d always imagined that they wouldn’t do well together because they’d want the same root space, but if that combination works well for you I should give it a try. You seem to be implying that your tulips perennialize for you (or that you have naturally-perennializing types), I’d be curious to know what kinds these are. This is my second year on ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ and it has multiplied nicely with no special care from me.

  • Sylvia (England) March 5, 2009, 2:20 am

    Pomona, the early tulips like Early Harvest come up each year. I am waiting to see if the later ones I planted flower – they are coming up but didn’t flower last year, their second year in the border. I plant the later bulbs much deeper and the earlier ones 6 inches above them.

    It is snowed last night and the red/orange Early Harvest tulips look lovely, against the white. I am going to plant some more next year, as the 6 or so bulbs I planted 3 years ago have done so well.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Pomona Belvedere March 5, 2009, 2:05 pm

    Sylvia, so am I right in understanding that the early tulips you plant with late ones are smaller, species types? That makes more sense to me. And the Early Harvest tulips in the snow sounds beautiful! Gardens are like constantly living, changing artworks.

  • Nancy Bond March 10, 2009, 10:40 am

    Your snowy iris photos are magical! I like the idea of layering bulbs and will keep that in mind for another fall. :)

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