Planting garden bulbs is an act of faith

“It is a greater act of faith to plant a bulb than to plant a tree . . . to see in these wizened, colourless shapes the subtle curves of the Iris reticulata or the tight locks of the hyacinth.”

–Claire Leighton, Four Hedges

Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'
Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ bulbs

I am trying to entice you buy bulbs. Is it working? Maybe this will help.

A photo of Iris reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin' from my friend, Frances at Fairegarden.
A photo of Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ from my friend, Frances at Fairegarden.

You can buy a copy of Claire Leighton’s book, Four Hedges, from Amazon in a reprint. Yes, I bought one to read by the fire this winter. The ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ iris is diminutive, but it blooms when you think winter will never end. It is a small, yet mighty bulb full of hope. There are several different varieties of I. reticulata, and all of them I’ve grown are beautiful. I couldn’t find a photo of ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ to share, but my friend, Frances, from Fairegarden came through. Please visit her blog and see the peakness of pink muhly grass in her garden. It’s quite a sight.

While it is still too early to plant bulbs here, it is time to buy. You can refrigerate them if you’re worried we’ll have a warm winter, or if you’re forcing some inside. I will plant my outdoor bulbs in November. I am doing most of my tulips in pots this year like this lasagne method by Sarah Raven with further instructions on her website. Carol Klein pots up her tulips at Glebe Cottage too. I’m layering mine with ‘Peppermint’ Muscari. For those of you follow my wanderings on Pinterest, you may have noticed I went on a bit of a terracotta binge recently. I was trying to find terracotta nursery pots for the greenhouse along with those lovely pots Sarah used in her video. Sadly, I couldn’t find terracotta longtom pots in a large size in the U.S. Although Oklahoma is far too hot for terracotta in summer here–except for growing succulents–it is great in spring and fall.

Italian terracotta containers I found at TLC Nursery in OKC.
Italian terracotta containers I found at TLC Nursery in Oklahoma City.

My Pinterest board reflected my hunt for Italian pots like the ones above. Just when all hope was lost, I found some yesterday at TLC Nursery in Oklahoma City. I was quite surprised. I found several containers with rolled edges, and for decent prices too. I’m still on the lookout for larger Italian terracotta containers so let me know if you find any. I’m not buying anymore of the Mexican terracotta pots.They are a disappointment. Even with shelter, they’ve cracked after a couple of seasons. Sometimes, cheap isn’t better.

I’ll do up my bulb containers in a couple of weeks and place the pots in the garage to overwinter. I think I’ll do a quick video if Bear with hold the camera. Bulbs need cold to acclimate themselves and do their thing. I am planting tulips in pots for several reasons. My family is plagued with osteoarthritis, and although young, I am already suffering the effects in my hands. Digging in cold soil to plant tulips as annuals seems crazy to me this fall. Also, tulips don’t last here past a season, and while I’ve tried every variety, even the species type, I’ve been disappointed in a lack of return. Finally, I want to amass color, and pots are always a great way to call attention to anything you’re growing. Think of them as the high heels of gardening. They hold up your subject and show it in their best light.

I potted up yellow mums in three terracotta containers in the shady front border. Their sunshine hue brightens the space and makes me glad.

Three terracotta pots with yellow mums brighten a dark corner.
Three terracotta pots with yellow mums brighten a dark corner. Soon the Japanese maple and dogwood will change color, and this border will come alive.

So, while I enjoying fall, I’m also thinking ahead to spring. Have you ordered your bulbs yet? If not, you better hurry. I see several of the companies beginning to sell out. It would be a shame to greet spring without a daffodil or ten, don’t you think?


  1. OK, you may have convinced me. I remember seeing several stunning posts about ‘Katherine Hodgkins’ Irises during the past few years, and I did fall in love. Several of the posts were on Layanee’s blog, Ledge and Gardens. And your idea to plant them in pots is compelling. Time to go shopping…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      They are quite tiny so plant them at the front of the bed or on top of a lasagna bulb planting maybe with daffs and tulips?

  2. I ordered some staples for increasing the naturalization of tried and true early bulbs. I love Katherine and all dwarf iris.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I did also Donna. I like how they multiply in the beds and out.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Oh I do need something that will bloom when I think Winter will never end. Our Winters are like that and then some. And thanks for the reminder that it’s time to pot up the bulbs. I do enjoy a pot of Spring blooms on the porch in Spring.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You are so welcome. When you make your choices, please let me know. I love to hear about others’ ideas.

  4. Robin says:

    I’ve got some double tulips headed my way, and I’ve never tried the container method of planting them. Hmmm…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Robin, it would be so pretty I bet. Double tulips bloom late here, and they are a welcome addition to the garden for sure.

  5. Rosemarie says:

    I never knew there was such a thing as an Italian terra cotta pot, but a few years ago I scored a terra cotta pot for 25 cents at a garage sale and it’s made in Italy and is my prettiest of all my pots. It had like a patina to it.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rosemarie, that is such a wonderful story. I bet it does have a lovely patina.

  6. Helen says:

    I adore bulbs more and more each year, I have some direct in the borders especially narcissus as they are toxic so should be attractive to rodents. I
    Also grow tulips in pots as well as various iris reticulata. I put some pots in the greenhouse which is frost free and some in cold frame and that way I can stagger the flowering

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I adore them too. I think they are the harbingers of spring and without them and hellebores, I don’t know what I’d do. Add to that spring blooming trees and shrubs.

  7. sandy lawrence says:

    One of the problems with terracotta pots made in Mexico is that they aren’t fired hot enough. Pots from Oaxaca are an exception and are fine pots, but not cheap. There may be other areas of Mexico that turn out superior pots. A trick I learned from other gardeners while living in Mexico is to paint the inside of the cheaper terracotta articles with 2 – 3 coats of asphalt paint. Paint up to where the soil will stop. I also painted the outside bottoms of mine for good measure. Let the asphalt paint dry well between coats. The pots will last a very long time. Finally, the lip will crumble, but the pot will still be intact. Don’t ask me why but the plants seem to thrive and flourish with that asphalt paint around them.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Sandy, that’s very interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience. I also appreciate you stopping by.

  8. Gail says:

    I am convinced! Thank you, I shall go press buy on the Tommies! xoxo

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh, I’m so glad!!!!

  9. Anonymous says:

    There is no other act of gardening that requires more faith than the planting of bulbs. No immediate gratification, not even a few weeks delay for said happiness, but rather months and months of waiting! I was happy to oblige with the iris photo, my friend, and thank you for the linkage. Katharine is a real looker, especially when backlit, but be warned, she is quite short and can be overwhelmed by her neighbors. I believe she would look great in one of those mighty fine terracotta pots, in fact, with a gravel mulch.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, so true. I almost wrote about her small stature and how early spring is the perfect time because she doesn’t have much competition. Thanks for mentioning it.

  10. Put in some big orders this year. 400 Colorblends tulips and 100 daffodils where they guarantee at least 85 different varieties. All of paid for by Trinity. Then I’m trying hyacinths and muscari in pots and naturalizing 200 snow crocuses from John Scheepers in the lawn. Should be colorful spring to be enjoyed by residents an visitors.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ooh, la, la, Patrick. I want to see pictures of that abundance come spring. 😀

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