The sight of a slender crocus pushing through the soil gladdens the heart of every gardener anxiously looking for a sign of spring. Why wait? Garden centers and supermarkets have an array of colorful potted plants to sustain us’ here’s how to create a hint of things to come for your front doorstep.
We asked John Reeves, president of Reeves Florist and Nursery in Woodbridge, Ont., and occasional floral designer on CITY-TV’s CityLine, to suggest a quick way to plant up containers that will provide a display of blooms well into May, and be easy to refresh.
Choose any combination of plants that catches your eye; we used tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and Muscari, as well as primulas and campanulas. Look for potted plants with tight buds or, if possible, no buds at all—a potted plant already in bloom will not give you a long-lasting display.
Buy a container, or hunt around for something you usually plant up with annuals. To help you decide on one, picture where the display will sit. Do you want height by a formal front door? Consider a tall, slender cast-iron urn. A wide, more casual front porch calls for a wooden half-barrel or a square poly-resin planter. Another consideration is drainage holes—whatever container you use should have them.
Reeves’ nursery sells the galvanized steel tubs like the one we used with or without them; “we’ll put the holes in for you,” he says. For the do-it-yourselfer, a hammer and nail will do the trick. You’ll also need soil to fill the bottom of the container, and terra-cotta pots to house plastic-potted plants, so they’re easy to replace.
Materials To Building Gorgeous Planters
• 24″ galvanized steel tub (10″ deep)
• 2 6″ terra-cotta pots
• planters 5 4 terra-cotta pots
• 2 6″ pots of tulips
• 2 4″ pots of hyacinths
• 1 4″ pot of campanula
• 1 4″ pot of primula
• 1 4′ pot of Muscari
• 5 pussy willow branches
• 2 dogwood branches
• 2 or 3 sheets of moss
Putting it Together
Begin by putting soil in the container. You want enough soil so that the terra-cotta pots, which nestle in it, reach just below the container’s rim. If you have various pot sizes, consider where the ones to hold the tallest plants should go. Will the Gorgeous Planters be viewed from all sides? Place taller plants in the center. If it’s going against a wall, place them at the back.
Fill in the gaps between clay pots with soil, then set in potted plants, keeping in mind the eventual size of the plants. Tulips and hyacinths shoot up, for example, while campanulas mound and spread. To give the display added height and contrasting form, insert pussy willow and dogwood branches between the pots; forsythia also works well.
If you can harvest branches in your backyard, so much the better, but many florists and garden centers sell them. “Don’t worry if the arrangement doesn’t look balanced,” Reeves says. “The tulips will shoot up and offset the difference between short plants and tall branches.”Place moss on top to disguise the pots; it also keeps in the moisture. Give the planter a good, solid soaking as soon as the moss is in place.
Next comes hardening-off. Bulbs that have been coddled in warm greenhouses won’t react well to an abrupt introduction to April weather, particularly the swings in night temperatures; you need to acclimatize them gradually. For the first few days, for example, place the planter outdoors during the day, but bring it in at night.
Inside, place the planter in a cool spot’ a screened porch would be ideal. Once the plants have handled that, a dip to three degrees or so probably won’t do them any harm. ‘You can buy a couple of degrees by keeping the container next to the house,’ says Reeves. (Note: if you think the display might be cumbersome to move in and out, consider hardening off plants before setting them in it.)
Water when soil is dry usually about twice a week. Make sure you get your fingers into the soil; the moss may be damp, but the soil in the pots has dried out.
When a pot of blooms is past its prime, move the moss aside, slip out the plastic pot, replace it with a new one, and put the moss back. Try exchanging spent red tulips with daffodils, or grape hyacinths with white campanulas, always keeping in mind the relative heights of the plants.
Recycling your Bulbs to Create Gorgeous Planters
Forced bulbs may not offer a burst of color anymore, but that’s no reason to discard them. The key to reclaiming potted bulbs for the garden, says John Reeves, is proper handling after they flower. Once you’ve taken pots out of the display, let the foliage die back, then plant bulbs in well-drained soil in a location with a minimum half-day of sun.
Amending the soil first with compost helps the bulbs root faster, so they can regenerate their internal food supply. Carol Cowan at the Netherlands Flowerbulb Information Centre concurs and says daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocus, and Muscari are good candidates for recycling but adds some bulbs may not rebloom even if you follow these steps.
Chances are they won’t bloom next spring; they need time to readjust their internal timing from the rigors of being forced,’ she says. But they may bloom the following and subsequent years. It’s worth a try.
Create an Urban Garden with Spring Bulbs
Get rid of the last reminders of winter with spring bulbs on your terrace or balcony. The choice is getting bigger every year, which allows you to plant all sorts of different forms and colors!
Luc Deschamps has become an influential floral decorator who works for famous fashion houses and the inaugurations of well-known stores.
He plants bulbs in galvanized window boxes, and old washing machines and watering cans which he picks up in flea markets and secondhand shops. This gives a great look at an urban garden. He uses boxes mounted on casters, which allows him to move them around to bring his terrace to life and to highlight them when he wishes.
The diversity of spring-flowering bulbs allows us to play around with the flowering periods. From the Galanthus nivalis which flower in February to”Weber’s parrot” tulips which flower in July, you can have continuous and varying flowering for months on end.
And bulbs are so easy to look after – just plant them in a pierced container into which you put a layer of gravel at the bottom and Bob’s your uncle! You can also plant bulbs indoors, even without soil, a process known as “Chinese-style growing”.
Bulbs can be planted from September to December, even after the night frosts.