Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to create a container with summer blooming bulbs, a “living flower arrangement.” I along with a group of garden writers and communicators visited Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia. I have known Brent and Becky for years but have never made the 3-hour drive to the Tidewater area. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is THE place to buy bulbs in the mid-Atlantic area. Although known for daffodils, they sell spring and summer blooming bulbs as well as some perennials and grasses.
Becky provided a “living flower arrangement” workshop for the group. Living flower arrangements are spring or summer blooming bulbs that have been planted in layers in a large container. As they break dormancy and flower, they provide an array of different blooms, similar to cut flowers in a vase. Usually the containers are outside, making them ideal for porches, patios, decks, and front doorways.
Becky began the workshop by giving us each a large vinyl container with drainage holes. After adding about 4-5 inches of potting soil, we planted three lilies, Lilium orientale ‘Mona Lisa’. These are the fragrant, oriental lilies with the large star-shaped flowers. This particular cultivar was bred to be short, only 1 to 2 feet tall, with rose/pink flowers.
While she distributed the bulbs to us, she explained the plants and the planting depth. The lilies produce stem roots that act as anchors so the plants stand taller if they are planted deep, about 6-8 inches, which is why they were planted first. Becky also gave each of us a special ruler indicating how deep different bulbs should be planted.
After covering the lilies with soil, we planted one Dahlia ‘Gallery Leonardo’ and one Zantedeschia ‘Paco’ on the same level, across from each other. The Dahlia Gallery series is more compact and floriferous than other dahlias, making them ideal for containers. The dahlias grow to about 1 to 2 feet tall and the flowers have pointed petals, in apricot, peach, and salmon colors.
The Zantedeschia, also called calla lily, has a flower that looks like the peace lily houseplant. The spathe is a dark rose color and the plant grows to about 1 to 1 ½ feet tall. They look exotic but they grow well outside in this area. The bulb looked like a biscuit, it was hard to tell which end was up. Becky explained that if you cannot figure out the top and the bottom, plant the bulb sideways and it will sort itself out.
After covering with soil, we planted 10 Oxalis regnellii var. triangularis. Also known as the shamrock plant, this particular variety has burgundy-colored, triangular-shaped leaves and small pink flowers. Shamrocks grow to about 6 inches tall and prefer shade which they will get since they will be under the foliage of the other plants. These “pips” were about the size of a thumb, so it was easy to fit 10 across the container.
After covering with soil we dug a little hole in the middle and added one pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This was a small plug, about 2 inches wide, which will eventually grow several feet tall. Muhly grass is an ornamental grass with blue green foliage. In the fall, the pink variety blooms, creating a beautiful pink haze in the landscape. Becky added this because she felt participants should go home with something pretty to see on top. I agree, it was the promise of great things to come.
Becky also distributed a handout with care instructions and possible combinations of the three-layered technique. We had a great time creating the living flower arrangement – it was definitely a hands on experience!
As I drove home with my container in the back seat, it occurred to me that this technique could be used many ways. Dormant bulbs can sit in a container for a while and not die. If I take the muhly grass out (which needs water and light), I could “package” the container with tissue paper and give it as a gift. These containers could be “instant” gardens, just water and watch! And for those who may have trouble gardening, these could be great gifts –pre-made flower gardens.
When I got home I took the grass out and put it into another container. I then wrapped the large container with tissue paper I had in the house just to see how it would look. I could see the potential – giving a container with several types of bulbs could inspire others to garden or help those who have limited physical capabilities still enjoy growing flowers.
As I write this at the end of April, I have put the container outside on the deck where the temperatures are now warm enough. Already the bulbs are sending up shoots. I will post photos when they flower, but the plant links in this article to Brent and Becky’s catalog should give you an idea of the flower and additional information. Try this method of three layers of summer blooming bulbs for a beautiful container. I know I will spend the summer enjoying my living flower arrangement and the memories of a great weekend at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a family-owned, mail order business in operation since 1900. They have a fall planted/spring flowering catalog and a summer-flowering catalog. They have a Bulb Shoppe full of bulbs and gardening accessories surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay friendly 8-acre teaching garden. The public is welcomed to visit the Shoppe and gardens Monday through Saturday, February through mid-December. Workshop and gardening programs also are offered onsite and Brent gives lectures across the country.