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Saturday, July 26, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/23/2000

Hardy heirloom plantings recapture gardens past

Gardeners, grab your notebooks.

Look above you at the Bradford pears, star magnolias, redbuds, cherries, and flowering crabapples in spring splendor. Watch the rainbow awakening of lilacs, forsythia, quince, rhododendrons. At your feet the spring flowering bulbs are calico carpets.

What is missing from your spring landscape? What would you like to include in your next year's garden? Write it down or you'll never remember.

Brent Heath of Brent and Becky's Bulbs of Gloucester, Va., spoke recently at Vintage Gardens near Perrysburg, where collections of heirloom spring bulbs are emerging amid the ground cover and fallen leaves. For those who wish to recapture the essence of grandmother's garden, heirloom plants and bulbs (those 50 years old or older) are the choice to make. They naturally reproduce and spread each spring or perennialize, coming back well each year.

Eranthis, of the buttercup family; Galanthus; and Crocus are harbingers of spring. These magical early bloomers are great in the garden, under carpet juniper and creeping cotoneaster or popping up in the lawn.

Mr. Heath had some suggestions on planting bulbs. You can spray the bulbs with Ropel, a repellent, before planting to keep critters from eating the bulbs. If you are planting in containers, plant at different levels to produce a compact display. Begin with a layer of soil, then bulbs, then soil and more bulbs. They all come up at the same time and bloom.

The lawn is a wonderful backdrop for "lawn art," using crocus bulbs to create happy faces, write children's names, or do rivers of iris. To plant in grass, use a narrow trowel and stab the ground to a depth of three times the height of the bulb. Pull back the trowel and drop a bulb into the hole. Use at least 25 to 50 bulbs in each section of the design. Mow the lawn high (31/2 to 4 inches) twice to let the foliage mature.

Anemones look terrific with violas. Fritillarias are fun. Iris go well with roses. Use hyacinths for borders or for forcing, and after the forced bulbs have bloomed, plant the clump in the garden.

Fertilize spring bulbs in the fall with a 5-10-20 formula. Bulbs like to be in elevated plantings, with good drainage. Don't worry about dividing old clumps. To bring them back to bloom, feed them in spring and fall and they will reward you with vitality. The more organic matter worked into the soil, the better the bulbs will do.

Numerous Narcissus are heirlooms and are critter-proof: Roseworthy is pink, Cheerfulness a double white, and Jonquilla the most fragrant. Never braid the foliage while waiting for it to mature.

For heirloom tulips, try Peach Blossom, Couleur Cardinal, Maureen, Queen of Night, and the popular Wirosa. Deadhead the tulips because 30 per cent of the strength goes into the seed head instead of back into the bulb. Tulips are heavy feeders and should be planted at a depth four to five times their bulb height.

Contrasting colors make the garden more interesting: yellows with purple, red and white, pink next to blue.

Mr. Heath said the beauty of heirloom plants is that they are success stories from the past. They conjure up rich garden memories and are at home in old fashioned gardens.

Mona Macksey is a free-lance writer for The Blade.



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