I will no longer be writing this column exclusively as my son Ben has joined me “in the business.” I am delighted. Now you will hear a new, young voice in horticulture.
Ben lives in a four-plex near downtown Guelph. He has a small deck where he grows a tomato plant. He loves indoor, tropical plants, and has a plot at the local community garden. As a fourth-generation gardener (or ‘horticulturalist’) he earned a diploma in agriculture (“I love food Dad”) from the University of Guelph, then a degree in Business from Dalhousie, where he worked for Halifax Seed.
Academically, this kid has already out-classed his dad. After graduation (the second time) he worked in the food industry for a couple of years. This column marks the beginning of us working together. Each column will be a collaborative affair between the two of us. You will hear both of our voices in the weeks and years to come. A 26-year-old, full of passion for horticulture and anxious to learn more. And his Ddad, who still loves his work and enjoys learning.
This is not an early retirement plan for Mark. It is just the sort of arrangement that suits us both. Together, we plan on delivering a sound message to you that engages you and makes you want to take up the trowel and give the gardening experience a go.
On that note, let’s talk about Holland bulbs.
There is a slight difference of opinion in our household about the place of spring flowering bulbs. The consensus is that every spring we thank ourselves for the foresight to plant them in the fall for early spring colour. Drive down any street around the end of April and you can see who is enjoying the early flushes of colour from crocuses, tulips and daffodils bursting into bloom, and those whose yards are still stuck in winter.
Where we disagree is how many bulbs, and where. Mark enjoys the show of his 20,000 daffodils bursting through the lawn, and Ben’s enthusiasm is tempered by having to mow the grass between the thousands of clusters. Regardless of whether you plant in formal, contained beds, or favour a full-yard take over, the time to plant spring flowering fall bulbs is now. And you will thank yourself later. Start with naturalizers.
“Naturalizing” refers to bulbs that improve each year and never fade. While you plant them in the fall they will come back year after year and long after we are around to enjoy them. It should say on the package, “Suitable for Naturalizing.” This is your gift to future generations.
Create a vision what flower brings you the fondest spring memories. What would look good in your lawn or garden? For our “mass planting”, Mark favours narcissus (or daffodils). Here is why they work so well: They bloom early, for up to four weeks. Reliably. Very winter hardy. Some varieties are fragrant.
They are resistant to most pests, notably squirrels and deer.
They work well in virtually all soils, except for heavy clay and low-lying wet areas (which will create rot).
Narcissus are shade tolerant. They look great cut and put in a vase.
Create your planting strategy base on this: “formal” or “full-takeover” (a la Mark Cullen.) For a natural look, you will find it is hard to avoid creating some type of pattern as you plan, so our solution is to turn around and throw the bulbs over your shoulder. Plant them wherever they land for a natural appearance. Generally, we avoid planting bulbs in straight lines, like soldiers. This works for large plantings by Parks and Recreation but not so well for the small residential planting.
When planting, always plant bulbs ‘pointy side up’ and about two-three times as deep as the bulb is thick (measured from top to bottom). Add bone meal to the hole to encourage early root development.
Now that you’ve done your part, sit back and look forward to the spring show; and if you’ve gone with the “full-takeover”, you might want to start sharpening that mower blade!
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.