When I first started the garden twenty some years ago I planted a few thousand bulbs in early autumn, mostly tulips, but also lots of daffodils and some spring flowering crocus. Occasionally I’d walk the area where the tulips were planted to find scattered divots where squirrels had pilfered the bulbs, but the first spring most everything bloomed, and what a magnificent sight it was.
In previous gardens I didn’t have nearly the space as this new garden, so I had planted only handfuls of bulbs, and never any tulips that I recall. So, I was young and dumb and wasn’t aware that it’s not advisable to leave tulips in the ground from year to year. The bulbs are continuously harvested by hungry squirrels, and ones that aren’t dug up will often rot in the poorly drained clay soil. The second spring there were many fewer blooms, with mostly tulips and some of the crocus disappearing, though daffodils gained in number. By the third year there were only a few tulips remaining, and all of the crocus were gone. Daffodils were again more abundant, and more than twenty years later most are still going strong.
With disappointing results I’ve given up on tulips, but from time to time I’ve planted a few more crocus, but also snowdrops, fritillarias, and other assorted bulbs. Most have grown splendidly, though squirrels usually track down and make off with a portion of the crocus bulbs.
Several years ago I planted several varieties of what is commonly called autumn crocus, which of course is not a crocus but Colchicum autumnale. ‘Waterlily’ (above) bloomed for two years and was never seen again, but others have returned each year in ever expanding clumps. The blooms are not long lived, but for a few weeks in September none are more splendid. I’ll probably replant ‘Waterlily’ one of these days since it is quite an extraordinary bloom. Though I don’t exactly recall where I planted it, ‘Waterlily’ is not there any longer, so I must presume that the spot was too wet, and I’ll be more aware to give it a drier location the next time.
There are true crocuses that flower in late summer and early autumn, and these should not be confused with Colchicum, so it is better to refer to these September blooming bulbs as autumn saffron. Colchicum flowers are larger than spring or autumn flowering crocuses and the blooms stand more upright so that they’re more readily seen. While crocus bulbs are a favorite of rabbits and squirrels, autumn saffron bulbs are poisonous and pest resistant.
No matter the amount of space available in the garden there is always room enough to plug in a dozen of this bulb, or even fifty or a hundred of another. I’ve paid particular attention in recent years to planting winter flowering bulbs, but mid and late summer flowers are appreciated nearly as much when there are fewer blooms in the garden.
Now, of course, is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, and is too late for the autumn varieties. But, notes should be made for ordering these in the spring. I usually order too few of any variety, with plans that it will spread, but the results are often disappointing for several years. The better plan is to order a few more than you would figure are needed, and if the budget for bulbs is tight, purchase other types the following year and so on until you have gotten it right.