Some of the First Flowering Bulbs of Spring

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The three flowers above are the first to bloom in my garden this year.  The first photo shows blooms (from left to right) of: Galanthus nivalis flore pleno, the double snowdrop; Iris reticulata; and Muscari botryoides, the grape hyacinth.  The snowdrop and the iris were planted last fall (2015) and the grape hyacinths were here in the garden from times past.

The double snowdrop is a beautiful flower, having rows of green and white petals that resemble the old-fashioned layered petticoats worn in the nineteenth century and before.  The single form was known in ancient times and is described by Theophrastus.  It is illustrated in Gerard’s The Herball of 1596 and was considered a type “bulbous violet” at that time.  The double form, illustrated above, occurred in  the eighteenth century.  It blooms slightly later than the single form, but is quite unusual and uncommon today.  G. nivalis is native to Europe and likes cool, rather moist conditions and cold winters (USDA zones 3-8).  I have mine planted in part shade under a Pieris tree.   Snowdrops have a faint, earthy fragrance and will begin to bloom as soon as the snow melts.

Iris reticulata, which does not seem to have a common or folk name, is native to Turkey, Iran and the Caucuses Mountains.  Bulbs reached Europe and North America in the mid-nineteenth century; nowadays several forms and colors are available.  The flowers have an unusual violet-like fragrance.  The plant is beautiful and undemanding, preferring full sun, rather alkaline, gritty soil and dry conditions in summer.   I. reticulata thrives in USDA zones 4-9 and multiplies well.

Muscari botryoides is the original “grape hyacinth” known since at least 1596 and is illustrated in Gerard’s Herball.  It resembles the commonly grown Muscari armeniacum, but blooms earlier.  It is hardier as well, growing in USDA zones 2-8.  M. botryoides has sterile upper flowers which are lighter in color than those below.  The flowers have a fragrance of honey.   M. botryoides has almost disappeared from modern bulb catalogs, but if you search, you may fnd it growing in old established gardens, or around abandoned home sites.  I am lucky that it was planted in the garden of my house, built in the 1920s.  The flowers are just opening here in mid-February.

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