FORCING LESSER BULBS FOR A FLOWER SHOW

Even just 5 bulbs of Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ makes a scene. Bred in the 1960’s it’s a cross between two rarer small iris, I. winogradowii and I. histriodes, both delightful choices to force if one dares to risk ruining their bulbs ( I prefer them in the garden) but ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is easy, and relatively available – it just sells out early in the catalogs.

If you’ve been following along here, you know that I’ve been planning on entering as few classes in our local spring flower show, being held this weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. What I didn’t realize back in October when I started potting up bulbs, was that this week would mean that I needed to be at New York Toy Fair and Westminster Dog Show – both at the critical time when forcing bulbs can become tricky – just at the end, when one is trying to time things perfectly – to have snowdrops in bloom at the same time as Iris reticulata, Muscari and tulips.

A pot of Iris danfordiae, an easy to force bulbous small iris which one can find in any fall bulb catalog, can come into bloom in just a matter of days once brought into the warmth. I just love their bright, yellow flowers, so although I plant many outdoors in the garden, I always save a few in my pocket to shove into a pot just for some winter color.

I’m please to say, that I think that I’ve done pretty well – aside from a few disasters such as me slipping down the deck stairs onto my back in deep snow last week ( just like Charlie Brown and Lucy) with a full flat of muscari, which flew up into the air and all landed upside down in the snow, then there was this little thing called 102 inches of snow in three weeks here in Worcester, MA, and then of course, some rascally terriers who decided to dig up all of my flats of forced lily of the valley just moments ago (my fault – I left them on the dining room floor).

Any of the small Iris reticulata varieties can also be forced easily, and if kept cool on a windowsill, can last for over a week once in bloom – these bloomed early last weekend, but I was able to keep them fresh by placing them in the cold greenhouse for a week.

My Muscari pots were kept under the cold benches in the greenhouse for 16 weeks, and then brought into the bright light to force. I brought them into the house for a time, to speed them up under lights, and then back outdoors.

In October, I decided to try to recreate a display that I saw at the Chelsea Flower show a few years ago – simple clay pots set on black, each one full of a different commercial variety of Muscari. I fussed around looking for as many named selections as I could (and I resisted ordering the rare species, for now, wanting to see how this experiment would net out). I planted two pots each of about 16 varieties, and set them to sleep much of the winter away under a dark bench.

These plastic pots will disapear, as I will repot each of these pairs of pots into one, clay bulb pan. Aesthetics are important with me, as they are with many of you. I will reuse these pots for tomatoes and seed starting soon.

Oh, snow. Here in the Boston area, this winter has been a record breaker – it has caused some problems in the greenhouse, mostly affecting the temperature inside, as nighttime lows have dipped near -10º F. I think choosing muscari was a good choice for forcing this winter, as in past winters, they may have bloomed much earlier.

A detail shot of what will be making it to the show bench tomorrow. Later this weekend, I wills share with you how they look installed, as well as what my tulip display looks like.

I knock out the rooted Muscari, and repot them into old clay pots. Topped off with coir, the appearance suddenly improves. Now, all they need are labels.

Here is a sneak peak, on my sand bench, of what some of the collection will look like this weekend at the botanic garden. Come and visit if you are in New England!
With snow blowing around, gusty winds and 15º F temps today, I had to rush back and forth from the house, to the greenhouse and back again. I can’t wait for this week to be over!

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