The other eco bulbs

Less expensive than those curvy compact fluorescents and every bit as good -- if not better -- for the environment, spring-flowering bulbs have a rightful place in our gardens, and now's the right time to plant them. Of course, I didn't always see the value in fussing with bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. Packaged in plastic, mesh bags and piled high in nearly every big box store, they seemed like a lot of trouble to me. After all, what's the point in carefully planting something that blooms only for a very short time?

There are a few reasons, actually. First, depending on your local climate, some crocuses will flower as early as January or February, making them an important potential food source for any nearby honey bees. (By winter's end, these valuable insects may well have exhausted their pollen stores, so every bit of protein they can come by helps.) Worth noting, too, most early bulbs can be planted in shady areas, since they'll flower before any nearby trees have had the chance to leaf out completely. Also, when coupled with a low-growing sedum or other groundcover, garden beds dedicated to early spring flowers shouldn't need much maintenance, even after the flowers and foliage from the bulbs you've planted die back. And that's just one more reason to leave the gas-guzzling, ear-splitting lawn mower in the garage -- not that you needed one.

Finally, if you go out of your way to choose and plant heirloom bulbs from your local nursery or a mail-order outfit -- rather than planting the humdrum offerings from the nearest Whatever-mart -- you can help bring some rare or endangered species back from the brink. For instance, one spring bloomer which is of particular interest to wild pollinators is the "Cloth of Gold" or "Turkey" crocus which was grown as early as 1587. The "Snowbunting" crocus, which dates back to 1914, is another to keep in mind, but crocuses aren't the only spring beauties to consider. Many kinds of tulips and daffodils, snowdrops, lilies of the valley, and grape hyacinths are also worth a look.

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Issue 25

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