Autumn's the time to plant bulbs for spring blooms

When smart gardeners plant fall flowers, they plan ahead for spring's first flowers. As pansies, snapdragons and dianthus plants are set into prepared soil, they leave room for what is to come later this autumn, the setting in of flowering bulbs that will announce spring is coming to the Lowcountry.

The winter and early spring of 2011 will find many Hilton Head Island yards in bloom with narcissus, first the paper whites, followed by jonquils and daffodils. The parade will not stop at private gardens -- many island public gardens will have their own show thanks to the Hilton Head Island Garden Council. The council has made planting these bulbs their project of the year. More than 1,000 daffodils were purchased for sale to council members for their gardens and to plant in various locations around the island. These include the gardens at the Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts, Memory Matters and the Life Care Center.

For those gardeners who've given up on planting daffodils -- most likely because they did not bloom one year, despite their reputation as a naturalizing flower bulb -- the good news is that there are varieties available that are especially for growing in the South. The council sale offered the best of these. They were carefully chosen after daffodil trials in members' gardens and are guaranteed to be deer- and rodent-proof and to bloom year after year.

Jonquils and Southern gardens go together like biscuits and gravy. The jonquil "Campernel" is a heirloom type with pinwheel yellow blossoms; "Grand Primo" is very early, very fragrant, vigorous and prolific with eight to 12 flowers with creamy yellow cups; "Ice Follies" is glistening white with a white trumpet; "Pink Charm" has white flowers that look like they were dipped in apricot nectar, is a great naturalizer and blooms early; "Gigantic Star" is tall (growing to 20 inches) and all bright yellow.

In December, I will plant my Southern narcissus varieties in the ground and in containers. For fun and as an experiment I plan to "do up" a couple of large containers with a mixture of what bulb supplier Old House Gardens ( calls "Southern Belles a Sampler." They are sending me three "Excelsior" Spanish bluebells, three "Gravetye Giant" snowflakes, one red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), one oxblood lily (Rhodophiala) and three Southern grape hyacinths.

All of these bulbs I've grown but never before in a pot. The snowflakes will flower first (usually in January), next the grape hyacinths, and last the red spider lily and the oxblood lily. Red spider lily is my favorite flowering bulb because they spring up on a hot summer's day offering a surprise. And the oxblood is awesome. I first saw these look-alike short red amaryllises flowering on Spring Island where they'd naturalized around ruins that had been left standing. That is their reputation; they often mark abandoned home sights.