Gardening June 2022

From Mélie’s Garden

Last month Fishers Islanders were treated to a visit from Brent and Becky Heath, premier bulb hybridizers and growers from Gloucester, VA. Brent’s family has been in the bulb growing business since 1900.  Helen Scott Reid arranged for their visit to the Island along with Bunty and Whitney Armstrong. Brent advised and provided Tom Armstrong with the magnificent daffodils we all enjoy at Hooverness each spring. The garden has been lovingly cared for by Whitney and Mike Simoncini and that weekend the daffodils were in glorious form!  On Sunday, Brent, Mike and Whitney led informative walks through the garden and they were greatly enjoyed by many Islanders.

The day before, Brent conducted an informative workshop at the Community Center on growing summer bulbs in containers, which was something many of us had never done. And that afternoon, he spoke at the Museum about combination planting with daffodils and other bulbs.

Brent told us that daffodils are part of the Amaryllis family and were native to the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans brought the bulbs with them as they traveled through Europe and the British Isles. By the sixteenth century, they were very popular and became an important commercial crop by the nineteenth. The first settlers in America were unable to bring plants on the long voyages across the Atlantic. But they were able to bring bulbs, “which women often sewed into the hems of their skirts.” The bulbs the Heaths grow today were descended from those first brought by the Virginian settlers!

Daffodil bulbs are shipped to growers in the fall. Brent said the bulbs should be planted three times their height deep and three times their width apart. Daffodils like to grow in full sun but will tolerate some light shade. Bonemeal or wood ashes are good to put down on top of the bulbs in early November, so they can be fed as the first snow falls. The bulbs can be grown in beds and mulched, but wood chips, if used, should be aged at least year before being put down.  If not aged properly, the chips will steal nutrients from the soil. But Daffodils are just as happy growing in a field as in a flower bed. Brent told us to not cut the foliage down until it is fully brown or it is after July 4th. The green foliage helps feed the bulb for the following year. He also said to never tie up the leaves and to let the leaves die back naturally as they would in the wild.

In the summer bulb growing workshop on Saturday morning, Brent started his demonstration with a pot only a quarter filled with growing mix. This mix consisted of potting soil, peat moss, compost, soil, and perlite. The first bulb he planted was a Lilium, ‘Lotus Beauty’. He then put more of the mixed soil in the pot covering the lily bulb. To the side of the lily, he planted a Dahlia tuber ‘Gallery Rembrandt’ and added more soil to cover it. On top and to the side, he planted a Cala Lily ‘Accent’. With an additional scoop of soil on top of the Cala Lily, he put in a Caladium, ‘Apple Blossom’ and finished the container adding the remaining soil, and planted the Oxalis ‘Fanny’. Oxalis is a ground cover and it will fill in any empty places in the pot as the bulbs and tubers grow. Brent then gave the pot a good drink of water (he prefers to water pots from the bottom, but this is not always possible with heavy planters) and the project was done. In the fall, the lily and oxalis can be planted into the garden, but the dahlia tuber and others would need to be stored in a place that didn’t freeze over the winter in order to grow again the following year in the garden.

If you are interested in planting a container with summer bulbs there is a very informative booklet “Living Flower Arrangements” that you can get from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (877) 661 – 2852. It will give you instructions on layering the bulbs, as you plant them in a pot.

I have grown daffodils and other bulbs for many years, but I really wasn’t very familiar with the history of daffodils and certainly had no knowledge of how to grow summer flowering bulbs in a container.

I think everyone, who participated in the weekend, enjoyed it and definitely learned many things about bulbs, we had not known before!  Many thanks to Helen Scott, the Armstrongs, and the Heaths for giving us such an informative weekend!

Visit Brent and Becky’s Blog

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