The Cranky Gardener

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Tulips and Lilies and Jonquils, Oh My

Ok, I know what you're thinking. It's summer - in the Northern Hemisphere where most of us live, anyway - why are you worried about spring bulbs? It's elementary, dear Watson. Now is the time to order your spring and summer bulbs for fall delivery. Actually, you'd better get off your duff and phone, mail or fax those orders into whichever nursery you choose before the prices go up!

I liked living in Texas - was there for 20 years. But I'm glad to be back in Missouri where I can have tulips in the spring. In San Antonio they had to be treated as annuals and replanted every fall, which made me very cranky. That was a lot of work and became expensive. The summer heat killed the bulbs. Now, I can look forward to a repeat showing of my favorites year after year.

But this brings up something you should know about tulips. Not all tulips are dependable perennials. So if that's what you want, it's a good idea to choose Darwin Hybrids and to plant them at least 6 inches deep. That will ensure repeat blooms for many years. You should also know that it's important to find a dependable supplier or your bulbs may be smaller than advertised, lack vigor and may not even be the variety you order. Imagine my surprise one year when what I thought was going to be a bed of solid red tulips had almost as many yellow flowers as it did red ones!

Planting tulips and other bulbs can be easy or hard. It's your choice. I prefer the easy way. Many years ago my husband bought me a bulb auger that attaches to an electric drill. According to the instruction sheet you can plant 500 bulbs an hour by using the auger. Well, maybe John Henry could drill 500 holes an hour, but I certainly can't. What a crock. But you can drill holes and plant the bulbs much quicker with the auger than with a spade or trowel or one of those little round aluminum bulb planters. And the auger will drill through hard soil, so you can naturalize bulbs under trees without having to prepare beds.

I use bone meal and bulb fertilizer when I plant. I drill my holes, sprinkle a little of each into the hole, drop in the bulb and cover. Then I water the beds, really soak them, and go treat myself to a glass of vino. Actually, my husband helps. He drills, I plant, we drink. Hey, it works for us.

I live in an urban area, so I don't have to worry about deer eating my tulip bulbs. If you live where this could be a problem, but still want to grow tulips you'll need to dig out the bed, place your bulbs on the bottom, cover with chicken wire, and then fill in with soil. You may also need to sprinkle some blood meal over the bed in the winter to keep the hungry critters away.

One thing you don't want to do is mulch the bed too early. Wait until the ground freezes before you mulch. This is true for all bulb beds, not just tulips. Once the ground freezes, you want it to stay frozen until spring. Freezing and thawing can heave the bulbs toward the surface, where they will heat kill the falling summer. Remember, it's the heat that kills tulips, not the cold.

My husband's favourite spring flowers are hyacinths. They bloom early and have a wonderful fragrance. Two things you need to know about hyacinths. First, if you order one of those lovely collections with several colors and think they'll all bloom at once and look like the picture in the catalogue - wrong! Each color will have a slightly different bloom time. So plant them in a grouping instead of using them as a border. Stick with the grape hyacinths for borders plants. And second, your hyacinths will need to be replaced after 3 or 4 years. They don't have as long a lifespan as narcissus and tulips.

Top size narcissus/daffodils/jonquils are usually more expensive than tulips. But when you understand that they will live and multiply for generations, deer won't eat them, and they'll grow practically anywhere, then they become the bargain of spring bulbs. When they begin putting up a lot of foliage with few blooms, it's time to dig and divide them.

And here's one more tip that applies to all spring bulbs. After they bloom it is tempting to cut the foliage down. I know, it looks ratty and keeps you from setting out other plants in the beds. But don't cut the foliage if you want your bulbs to do well the following year. Let the foliage die back naturally. This process helps feed and strengthen the bulbs1.

Lilies also do better if planted in the fall, so while you're ordering your spring flowering bulbs, be sure and include some lilies as well.


I still have eggplant2 in my garden. Here's a quick and easy way to prepare it.

Eggplant and Pasta Casserole


  • 1 large eggplant, diced
  • 6 ounces dry pasta, your choice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup sliced green onions
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes
  • Fresh basil and oregano to taste

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC, Gas Mark 4). Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant, garlic and pepper until tender. Toss eggplant mixture with pasta, green onions and half the cheese. Grease a 2- quart casserole and add the eggplant and pasta. Top with the tomatoes, herbs and the rest of the cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with a fresh salad, garlic bread and a good Italian wine. Enjoy.

That's all for now. Keep gardening... even if it makes you cranky.

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21.08.03 Front Page

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1If you don't like the untidyness then it is perfectly ok to tie them into neat bundles - either 'in on themselves' or using garden twine - provided you don't sever the leaves from the stems. - ed.2Aubergines.

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