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Life Beyond Daffodils - Summer Bulbs are Terrific!
by Daryl Pulis

I recently had a chance to tour Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia. Brent Heath and his wife Becky showed us around the trial gardens lush with bloom where Brent's grandfather began growing bulbs more than a hundred years ago. While I was there, thousands of Tulips were blooming, and row upon row of late Daffodils, too. Except for the American voices around me, it was as if I were in Holland again, for the Heath's test all of their Tulip varieties for 10 years to find those that will be hardy in southern climates. In a future article, I'll tell you which tulips these are and some tricks that the Heaths have learned to get them to rebloom.

Brent and Becky have expanded their business to include many summer bulbs - bulbs that can be planted now for bloom in the heat of summer. Many of these are new on the market, while some are old favorites, and still others have been forgotten in the rush for modern hybrid this-or-that. They've also created a great website that lets you search by color, size, zone, moisture requirements and other attributes, including deer and rodent resistance!

Brent sat on the floor of their packinghouse, excitedly showing us bulb after bulb and giving us growing tips. He told us about heirloom Crinums, or Milk and Wine Lilies, and the wonderful Amarcrinum, whose pink trumpet flowers bloom in clusters on stalks more than 2 feet tall. He said that the deer won't touch them, a definite plus for many local gardeners. Amarcrinums are a cross between our familiar Amaryllis and the old fashioned Crinum.

Becky mentioned that she'd picked a blossom so that she could enjoy the fragrance as she went to lunch. As usual, things were busy, and she set the flower down. "Two days later", she said, the flower was as beautiful as it was when it was picked, even being without water".

Brent showed us a seemingly unlimited variety of Elephant Ears, and said that most of them are hardier than we think, needing only to be planted more deeply and kept wetter than we usually do. I wish I'd known that before I killed my favorite 'Black Magic', which has leaves that will get 6 feet long.

Becky's eyes lit up as we discussed Lilies. She likes them all, from the stately Asiatics to the fragrant Orientals, and says that they're great to plant in the same bed with Daffodils and Tulips so that the entire bed will be in bloom for a long time. Becky said that although lilies bloom in the summer, they like cool roots, so planting them deeply and surrounding them with a ground cover can help keep them happy. She also loves to walk in the evening through paths lined with light colored lilies that reflect the moon and starlight.

"Cannas give you the most bang for your buck", said Brent. Many varieties can get 8-10 feet tall, and the lush tropical look adds romance to the summer garden. Many Cannas are available with Burgundy or multi-striped leaves, too, so that even when they're not flowering, they're a great addition to your garden. The group of us agreed that they're best planted in some shade so that they're not the stiff little soldiers seen tortured near mall parking lots. For incredibly lush foliage, they can even be planted in a pot set into your garden pond.

Brent said that there's a revolution taking place in Caladiums. Long grown for their colorful foliage in the shade, the new Florida series has thicker leaves and is more sun tolerant than the older varieties. While not hardy here, they can be treated as annual, or they can be grown in pots, then allowed to remain nearly dry in the basement over the winter.

Dahlias are another favorite summer bulb. The trick for getting lots of flowers? Keep cutting them to enjoy in the house. If you want to grow exhibition-sized blooms, remove all of the buds but the one on the end. Dahlias come in dozens of colors and shapes. My favorites are the ones with burgundy leaves, so that even when they're between bloom periods, the foliage looks terrific in the garden.

Many of these plants are available at local nurseries and garden centers, as well as from Brent and Becky's bulbs at www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com. Either way, I hope you'll try them in your garden this summer.

If you'd like to know more about summer bulbs, or have a garden question, you can write to me at P.O. Box 2413, Cumming, 30028, or email MrsGreenThumb@mindspring.com.

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