My new yard has a couple of good places to plant bulbs this fall: on top of a newly-constructed berm and around the edges of the yard where the topsoil has been undisturbed for years. Both sites are ideal for hardy spring-blooming bulbs because the soil drains quickly.
Around the house, though, it’s a different story. As is common with new construction, the excavation left me with clayish subsoil. Heavy machinery and contractors’ trucks ruined the soil structure, leaving it hard as a brick. Far different from the deep loess soil where I’ve gardened the last 36 years, this new soil holds water for a long time before it very slowly drains away.
I’m working on the soil, adding compost and mulch to help it gradually repair itself. In the meantime, this soggy soil is no place for most common bulbs including tulips, hyacinths, crocuses or daffodils. Nevertheless, there are a few hardy spring-blooming bulbs that don’t mind wet feet. If you, too, have clay soil or another poorly-drained site where you’d like to have spring-blooming bulbs, consider the following:
Summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), despite its common name, blooms in mid to late spring with small but showy pendulous, white, bell-shaped flowers that have green markings. The plants usually grow 12 inches to 15 inches tall. The variety I’m planting in my new yard, called Gravetye Giant, is a little bigger, often reaching a height of 20 inches. Brent and Becky Heath (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) say the blooms of this variety resemble those of a giant lily of the valley.
A close relative called spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) is one of the earliest bulbs to bloom. The flowers look like summer snowflake but the plants are shorter.
Although tolerant of wet soil, both kinds of snowflakes also grow just fine in a well-drained garden. Plant the bulbs in sun or shade, in clusters of five or six bulbs per square foot.
Camass bulbs (Camassia species) produce tall spikes of starry blue, violet or white flowers in late spring. Depending on the variety you choose, the height of the plants ranges from 12 inches to 36 inches. For the best show, space camass bulbs 12 inches to 18 inches apart.
Camass bulbs are extremely hardy and grow well in sun or light shade. Unlike most of the bulbs grown in Midwest gardens, camass bulbs are American natives. In fact, they were an important food source for some Indian tribes and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Here’s a bonus: Unlike many other spring-flowering bulbs, neither snowflakes nor camass bulbs appeal to deer or rodents.