Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 5, Issue 1
   February 2010
   Minor Bulbs

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Those bulbs, tubers and corms other than tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are considered to belong to the group known as minor bulbs. The phrase refers to their smaller size compared to the larger classics. However, the term minor seems unfair. Although they produce proportionally smaller plants and flowers, there is nothing minor about them in terms of their qualities and their contribution to the spring garden.

The earliest bloomer, the lovely winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), is a master of packing a lot of interest and beauty into a tiny tuber. Aconites waste no time — their cup-shaped, golden, honey-scented blooms open before the decorative foliage emerges. Next comes a ring of leaves that looks like an elegant green collar beneath the flower. Similar leaves appear at the base of the plant. Even the aconites' seedpods are ornamental. Don't be deceived by the beauty of aconites, since, like other members of the buttercup family, they are poisonous. Soaking the tubers overnight before planting will give them a good start. Remember, tubers are tricky, so if you aren't sure which end is up, plant them sideways. Don't worry, the shoots will find their way to the surface.

Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)
Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.)

Aconites may be still blooming when snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) arrive. Just as their name implies, their tiny, drooping flowers look like drops of snow. They are pure white with distinctive green markings that look like an inverted V. The slightly fragrant flowers are carried gracefully above the gray-green, grassy leaves. Patience is required when growing snowdrops, since they are slow to establish. Be careful, snowdrop bulbs are mildly toxic and their foliage may irritate sensitive skin. Wear your gardening gloves when handling them.

Next comes a plant with the wonderful common name, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.). As soon as their green, grass-like leaves appear, they burst into sprays of tiny, star-shaped flowers. The stems carry a dozen or so upward-facing blooms. Unlike other small bulbs, their six-petalled flowers come in a wide range of colors such as shades of blue, lavender, pink and white, depending on the species or cultivar.

The striped scillas (Puschkinia scilloides) follow glory-of-the-snow. Their bell-shaped flowers are pale bluish-white with a thin, dark-blue stripe down the center. The slightly fragrant blossoms come densely packed on erect stems.

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