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.