Volume 53, number 1

In the year of our lord 2020


We noted here a year ago that this column had appeared for 51 years and we were starting the 52nd year without ever a miss.

Well, here we are on the threshold of another anniversary. Today marks the first edition of “Garden Path” for year number 53. In case you’re wondering and missed out on memorizing the multiplication tables in the fifth grade, that comes to a total of 2,704 columns, give or take a few to account for a leap year here and there and maybe a year that ended on an odd number.

My grandmother, Lucy Cowan Williams, penned the first column on Sept. 6, 1968, in longhand. That’s 52 years ago, and we still haven’t had a miss. The Lord has been good to us. I picked up the mantle, with extreme trepidation, on Sept. 7, 1984, just 36 years ago and somehow I am still at it.

My first column was ghost written with her byline, then for a few weeks I was listed as guest columnist, and soon I had a sure enough byline all to myself from then on. I looked up my first, clumsy effort a few days ago and found that I had written that first column on the joys of autumn weather in those few “golden months” when bulb planting is one of the orders of the day.

There has never been a verbatim repeat of any subject, though some have, of course, been touched on as seasonal interest has been piqued. I often am asked how I ever find, after all those years, something to write about. Haven’t I said it all? The answer is no, there are always new plant varieties coming onto the market, new challenges to be faced, and on ad infinitum.

So then, seeing that it is the first week of September, a month that is considered a fall month though it isn’t, and bulb planting time is upon us, it might be advantageous to review some basics on how to handle planting of bulbs.

Time is already short for planting fall flowering ones, i.e., fall crocuses or colchicums. I have never been wholly successful with either of them, but I keep topping up what few fall crocuses make it for more than one season of bloom. They should be in the ground within two more weeks or they will try to bloom in their brown paper sacks. They are never found on local markets and must be mail ordered. By calling in quickly, you might be able to get some before it is too late. They should be planted about three inches deep.

While you are at it, you might as well plant some of the more traditional spring blooming ones. 

The most permanent is the species tommasinianus, popularly called the tommy crocus. This little one will reproduce faster than the voles can eat them. 

They will compete with rough turf and woodland conditions. They are smaller than the big hybrids but more prolific, in a quiet lavender that befits the season. 

I might as well make my recommendation here for bulb varieties that might not be available locally. 

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs of Virginia, which couple are known to me personally, sells bulbs at fair prices and with good quality. Just Google them up.

As to other bulbs, the all-time favorite in our area is daffodils (“buttercups,” “narcissus,” “jonquils,” take your pick). They would be in the ground by November, and preferably earlier. As a general rule, the earlier in the spring a bulbous plant blooms, the earlier it should be planted. Most daffs need to be planted six inches deep.

Tulips are, alas, just expensive annuals in our hot climate. They are more permanent in the cold north, but it is seldom that we get more than a year out of them. They can, however, be set up until freeze-up, even until Christmas or after.

There are several other spring flowering bulbs that can take your fancy. Google them up for their individual needs.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be con- tacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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