Bulbs in a Minor Key

There’s more to bulbs than tulips, daffodils and crocus. Many years ago, Mary Henry and Margaret Purcell wrote about so-called minor bulbs in Northern Gardener.

I took their advice t and planted 80 squill (Scilla siberica) along with two different types of allium for a total of 157 bulbs in my Northfield garden. Mary and Margaret have only three rules for bulb planting: plant lots of them, plant them in drifts or large groups, and limit the colors to no more than two.

blue and white bulbs in bloom
Squill in the yard.

Squill is an early bulb, which blooms about the same time as hyacinths. It grows 6 to 10 inches tall and its blooms generally are a bluish purple. I bought some of the purple, but mixed them with a white variety called ‘Alba’. Squill are excellent bulbs for naturalizing in a lawn. We have a few patches of lawn with brown spots so that seemed a good place to naturalize the bulbs. I used the “toss and plant” method, in which you throw the bulbs on the area you want to cover and then plant them where they land. Other than having to convince my dog, Lily, that bulbs were not toys or dog treats, it was a fun way to plant and much easier than trying to place the bulbs just-so.

I bought a bulb planter to make the process easier, but as I was working, my neighbor offered the use of his portable auger. What a slick deal! The auger has a power pack like a portable drill and a 3-foot-long, drill-like attachment. You just squeeze the trigger and it bores into the ground.

Purple allium bloom with orange flower
Purple Sensation is a fabulous allium to add height to the spring garden.

After planting the squill, I placed 32 Purple Sensation allium (Allium aflatuense ‘Purple Sensation’) in the flower bed near the front entry. (The photo is from the White Flower Farm web site.) I planted them in two drifts about 8 feet apart. These grow to 3 or 4 feet in height with blooms about 5-inches across. These bloom later in the spring, around the same time as late daffodils and tulips. Finally, I put about 45 small allium (A. moly) in one of the back beds. These are short allium, less than a foot in height, with smaller flower balls. They are in the same bed as several lilac bushes and will be a nice touch of color under the bushes, which should bloom about the same time. Minor bulbs are not available at every big-box or garden center. I found mine at Farmer Seed and Nursery in Faribault. Squire House Gardens in Afton is also known for a great selection of unusual bulbs.

It has often been said that planting bulbs in the fall is an act of hope. That’s true enough, but it’s also an act of desperation. I planted those bulbs yesterday in beautiful weather. Today, it’s cold, wet, and dark. Planting bulbs is a way to resist winter with a very spring-like act–planting.

5 thoughts on “Bulbs in a Minor Key

  1. Hi! Read about you in the paper today and am excited to find you. I’m relatively new to MN from the south and I need all the help I can get in my yard! Great blog.

  2. Cyndi! Thanks for stopping by! Check out some of the gardening know how links on my site — they are all geared to the north.

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