By Kerry A. Mendez
Q: In one of my garden magazines I saw a picture of a lawn covered with spring blooming bulbs. Can you tell me how to do this so I can gear up for my fall bulb planting?
A:It is always so uplifting to see jewel-like flowers adorning a bright green carpet of lawn in the spring. And the good news is that this is not a difficult masterpiece to create. Smaller bulbs work best as their foliage ripens quickly, a crucial factor since you cannot start mowing your lawn until the foliage has died back. If you cut off the green blades before they’ve browned out, you sabotage the plant’s effort to store food needed for next year’s flowers. Thankfully, smaller bulbs have shorter, thinner leaves that are not as noticeable as they ripen. Species tulips are great choices. They are up 4” to 6” tall and come in many bright colors. A few of my favorites are T. humilis Persion Pearl (magenta-rose with bright yellow centers), Little Beauty (cherry-red), turkestanica (yellow and ivory) and saxatilis (lilac-rose). Most people think of crocus for lawn plantings. You can use species varieties such as tommasinianus (range of colors from lilac to deep reddish-purple) that get 4” tall with petite flowers or go with large flowering crocus that get a tad taller (5”-6”) and have showier flowers. Additional bulbs include galanthus (snowdrops), dwarf irises (iris reticulata), and for a rich blue, Siberian Squill (scilla). But don’t stop at spring blooming bulbs! Plant some fall blooming crocus and colchicum for September color. The easiest way to plant any bulb is with a power drill and bulb auger. You can purchase bulb augers at many garden centers and online. Simply insert the auger into the power drill and drill away. To save your lawn from pock marks when using larger-sized augers (2.75” in width), first peel back small sections of turf with a flat-edged spade and drill holes about 6” apart. Toss in the bulbs, kick the dirt back into the holes and lay the turf back in place. Water bulbs in well after planting. All of these recommend bulbs are good naturalizers and will bring you joy for many years.
Q: What are some fragrant flowering shrubs to plant near my back patio?
A: There are so many great ones, but for the sake of space I’ll share a few favorites by season. Let’s begin with spring bloomers. I would be remiss if I did not kickoff with lilacs. But rather than recommending the common lilac (vulgaris) that matures to 12’ to 15’, I suggest dwarf varieties that are more appropriate around a home’s foundation. There are many new cultivars. ‘Tinkerbelle’ has burgundy colored buds that open to pink; ‘Joess’ has lavender-pink flowers; ‘Palibin’ has light purple; and ‘Miss Kim’ has lavender-blue flowers. All get between 4’ to 6’ tall and are hardy to zone 3. Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ is another favorite spring bloomer with cream edged leaves and fragrant whitish-pink flowers. It reaches 3’. Fothergilla has honey-scented flowers with striking red, orange and yellow leaves in the fall. F. ‘Mt. Airy’ gets 4’ to 5’ tall and gardenii stays between 2’ and 4’. Both are hardy to 4. Moving into summer, roses are a favorite. Any of the shrub roses in the Knockout series are incredible; long blooming, disease-resistant and very hardy. These will revolutionize the way you think about roses. Another winner is Clethra, a native shrub with pink or white flowers that blooms in July and August. Heights range from 2’ to 8’ depending on the cultivar with hardiness to zone 3. Philadelphus, commonly known as mock orange, blooms in early summer. Fragrant white flowers cover this shrub for up to four weeks. Plants can reach 6’-8’ tall and many are hardy to zone 3. My pick for a fall blooming shrub with great fragrance is butterfly bush (Buddleia). These start blooming in August, are hardy to zone 5 and come in a range of colors from pinks, lavender-blue, white and purple. A word of caution about these lovely butterfly magnets – place them in a sheltered part of your yard, NOT in the path of cold, winter winds. To provide additional protection, wrap them with chicken wire in late fall and stuff raked leaves inside the hoop for added insulation.
Q: While on a garden tour the other week, I saw an orange coneflower. It was stunning. I am only familiar with the purple ones. Can you tell me about this one?
A:There has been an explosion of new cultivars in the world of coneflowers; orange coneflowers are just one of the fabulous new looks in this family. In the past we were limited primarily to purplish-pink coneflowers. Our only other choice was a white cultivar called ‘White Swan’. Not anymore. Now, coneflowers come in yellow, orange, orangey-red, melon and a double-decker pink. One of the first colors was a burnt orange coneflower called ‘Art’s Pride’. Other noteworthy introductions include: ‘Sunrise’ (soft yellow); ‘Sunset’ and ‘Sundown’ (vibrant orange), ‘Harvest Moon’ (melon), ‘Twilight’ (rosy-red); and ‘Paranoia’ (lemon yellow with deeply curved petals and a dark center cone). These are all reported to be fragrant, supposedly smelling like roses. Other cool choices include ‘Doubledecker’ (purplish-pink, two flowers on top of each other); ‘Fragrant Angel’ (white, horizontally held petals, fragrant); and ‘Razzmatazz’ (bright pink with a mounded, mum-like pink center and shorter light pink petals that curve down from this). Please note that the funky looking ‘Doubledecker’ is usually normal in appearance its first year and then does its wacky tiering thing the second year. All of the above coneflowers grow to around 30” (‘Doubledecker’ can reach 40”) and are hardy to zone 4. Coneflowers are super butterfly magnets, great for cut flowers, are disliked by deer and provide wonderful winter interest in the landscape, as well as seeds for foraging birds.
Kerry Mendez is the owner of Perennially Yours and is a teacher, writer, speaker and consultant residing in Ballston Spa. To learn more about her work, please visit her web site at www.pyours.com.