Leucojum aestivum Gravity Giant, a spring bulb that’s a favorite of “Maine Grows” editor Lisa Colburn. Photo by Lisa Colburn

It’s time to think about your spring flowers.

I’m not suggesting you skip skiing and other winter sports, and you’ll want to enjoy all of the holidays between Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, too. But now is the time to research and find spring-flowering, fall-planted bulbs to add to your landscape and then to plant them before the ground freezes. Bulbs are for sale everywhere — in garden centers, catalogs, and hardware, discount and grocery stores. Also, many nonprofits (including the Cape Elizabeth Garden Club of which I am a member) hold bulb-sale fundraisers.

Blossoming bulbs are the first sign that winter is over. Whatever snow we had will melt, the ground will thaw and become dry enough to work. In my opinion, you can never have too many of them. Plant bulbs under trees and shrubs and in the middle of your flower borders. They look good beside driveways and walks. They even do well in the middle of a lawn and in parts of our vegetable garden.

Technically, spring-bulb season this year in our garden started in astronomical winter, with one lonely yellow crocus (we’re guessing its neighbors died or were eaten by squirrels because we’d never plant one crocus all by itself) on March 19, the day before astronomical spring arrived. Meteorologists say spring begins March 1, however. Next, our Iris reticulata bloomed on March 26, a small, early variety that is one of my favorites. The more familiar daffodils, tulips and alliums kept coming throughout the summer.

To give faithful readers, who have suffered through my opinions for past 19 years, a different point of view, I asked for bulb suggestions from Lisa Colburn of Orono, author of the Maine Garden Journal, published in 2012, and now editor of “Maine Grows,” a Garden Club Federation of Maine horticulture newsletter. She offered three.

I wasn’t familiar with Leucojum aestivum. It goes by the common name “summer snowflake,” though it blooms in the spring, in April or May. Colburn suggests the cultivar ‘Gravity Giant.’


“I grow this one in an area of my garden that has dappled shade and moist soil most of the year,” she said. “Most spring bulbs would rot in this environment. It’s about 12 inches tall. I love the bell-shaped delicate flowers.”

Lisa Colburn is a fan of this unusual spring bulb, Camassia. Photo by Lisa Colburn

An unusual offering she recommended that my wife Nancy and I do grow is Camassia, a striking flower that blooms in May. She likes the cultivar ‘Blue Giant’;  you can also find the bulb in white and pink. Colburn also likes Kaufmanniana Tulips. These blossom in April, a little earlier than other tulips. The blossoms open wide when the sun is out, but close when the sun sets, giving gardeners two different looks from a single plant.

My wife Nancy and I grow a lot of daffodils, including some that were given to us in 1976 shortly after we moved into our house. They still thrive and bloom. Because they are poisonous, they don’t get eaten by critters as many tulips do. Not that that stops us from growing tulip. We simply replace them with other varieties when they disappear. Everything has a season.

Hyacinths are another favorite of mine. We plant them by our front door so we can enjoy their sweet, strong fragrance. We’ve found that hyacinths are like crocus, fairly short-lived.

Another popular early-blooming bulb are snowdrops, which have white blossoms and a nodding appearance. They prefer shady locations, and their foliage will disappear in summer.

“A host of golden daffodils” in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden. Photo by Tom Atwell

It’s easy to plant bulbs: Do so in four to six inches deep anytime from September until the ground freezes. If only the top of your soil has frozen, you can still plant bulbs and get great blooms in spring, something I found out one forgetful year. Use a shovel or your trowel to dig down to planting level, put in your bulbs with the pointed side up and the flat side, with root remnants, down. The bulbs won’t die if they are planted upside down, because the shoots will head up toward the light anyway, but it will take longer. Finally, replace the soil and water the bulbs, which helps to settle them.


Generally it is best to plant several bulbs in a group, each bulb about four inches from its neighbors. It’s more efficient to use a shovel than those tubular or drinking-glass–shaped bulb planters, which can plant just one bulb at a time. If you want a great sweep or big area of blooms, dig out soil to the correct level for the bulb you are planting, space the bulbs out and then cover with soil.

Early in my gardening career, I used to put labels to mark where I’d planted bulbs, but the labels always seemed to disappear. So I gave up on that and, with my slightly faulty memory, get some cheerful spring surprises.

If you don’t like surprises, I suggest that you draw yourself a garden plan.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com.

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