UNITED STATES—Narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth and early blooming bearded iris are some of the earliest, and probably the easiest of spring bulbs, although bearded iris do not always bloom early in their first season. Crocus, freesia and harlequin flower are just as early, but not always as eager to naturalize (bloom annually after the first year). Anemone, rananculus, hyacinth, lily and tulip are impressive when they bloom in their first spring, but prefer cooler winters to bloom reliably each spring afterward. It may seem to be too early to be concerned with spring bulbs, but this is when they should be planted into the garden, so that they can disperse their roots through winter, and be ready to bloom on time.
Bulbs, including corms, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots, become available in nurseries when they should be planted. Summer bulbs like gladiola will be available when they should be planted a bit later. They may not look like much while dormant and bare, and are even less interesting when they get buried and can not be seen, but bulbs have what they need for their big show next year.
Like so many vegetable plants, some types of bulbs can be planted in groups every two or three weeks, depending on the duration of the bloom cycle. For example, if bloom lasts three weeks or so, a second phase of the same type of bulb planted three weeks after the first should begin to bloom as the the first phase is finishing. Of course, phasing only works in the first season, since all bulbs of each particular type will be on the same schedule by the second season.
Bearded iris, rananculus and anemone each bloom all at once, regardless of when they get planted, so do not conform to phasing. However, the various varieties of bearded iris have the advantage of different bloom seasons. Early blooming varieties can be followed by mid-season varieties, which can be followed by late bloomers. Some of the modern cultivars of bearded iris even bloom early and again later!
Highlight: Liquorice Plant
Even with a yummy name and a history in herbal medicine, liquorice plant, Helichrysum petiolare, can nonetheless be somewhat toxic in large quantities. To make matters worse, a few people find that the soft tomentum (fuzz) on the leaves and young stems can be irritating to the skin. Liquorice plant really only smells slightly like liquorice. Inconspicuous tan flowers that bloom in the middle of summer are not much to look at.
The attributes are the foliar texture and color. The small evergreen leaves spread out over the ground densely but shallowly on thin stems that are limber enough to cascade nicely from planters or over low retaining walls. Well exposed or slightly shaded large plants can be three feet broad while only a foot or so deep. Some of the popular modern cultivars of liquorice plant are pastel chartreuse or darker green variegated with white. More traditional liquorice plant is silvery gray. The tomentum gives the leaves an appealing velvety sheen.
Liquorice plant is so easy to grow that it has naturalized in a few rural areas of California, and is identified by the California Invasive Plants Council as an invasive exotic weed. Most modern cultivars that can be found in nurseries are therefore sterile.
By Tony Tomeo