Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis and revival of old bulb garden

merlcat(7a)September 27, 2012

Hello, all! Please excuse the long post but I am full of questions right now!

Subject: Eranthis hyemalis bulbs and the best way plant them!

First off, I am wondering if anyone has any good pictures of the bulbs themselves.

I am trying to fix a neglected area that is filled with them, and also move the ones scattered in the lawn to fill out other sections of that area. There are several different bulbs there though, so I am having a little bit of trouble identifying them. It is also an area infiltrated by Pinellia ternata, which is part of the problem!

For may years the man who cuts the yard had simply mowed over this area (under a magnolia) that was obviously once a lovely bulb/ rock garden. I once watched him from the upstairs window mow down about 60 hostas that had already begun to grow! The guy is not employed by me and not so easy to talk to. :(

Is mulching this area w/ fine black mulch a bad idea? I do not really care for this stuff, but I am not sure how else to designate it as "off limits", so to speak.

I am slowly lifting the rocks that have been long imbedded in the ground surrounding it so there is some designation, other than the little wire fence that I put up this season to end the carnage. I'm sure being run over by the giant mower didn't help the rocks any! If I use a black mulch, thinly applied, do you think it would deter the Eranthis hyemalis in any way?

I can only lift the rocks up so far, or I will have to top-fill with garden soil/topsoil. I would prefer to lift them like that and really create a natural looking yet higher border, but I am afraid of then burying the Aconite too deep. I assume that if I do this I may be burying the bulbs down too far to come back. I'm not sure if the mulch is a good idea for this reason, too. I also have terrible fears of burying hiding Pinellia ternate bulbs even deeper. I spent all year removing them one by one and in clumps, though I know they are still lurking. I am not sure how I could raise the good bulbs w/o too much disturbance and missing many if I do top fill.

I really have no idea. These come back year after year but get mown down along with whatever weeds have been growing there as if it were just part of the lawn, mowing over the rocks and all. This year I fenced it off with a tiny, dollar store wire fence-coil and have been removing the unwanted grass and weeds as they pop up, as well as removing the invasive pinellia ternata, and pretty much have nice, yet bare dirt now. Adding to my confusion, the Eranthis hyemalis (and a few snowdrops and scillia, as well as bluebells) are planted very shallow, or so it seems. I can imagine it could be erosion, and that all the cutting down of the other weeds gave them cover.

I guess they have always had the cut grass and weeds covering them most years, so perhaps the black mulch would be an okay idea? Or, perhaps they ARE just too shallow and should have another inch or so of garden soil? When I say they are shallow, some are not a half inch in the ground, some seem uncovered, others a couple inches down, perhaps. There are far more Anconite in this section than anything else, just a sprinkling of a few surviving snowdrops and scillia, as well as english bluebells, so these are the ones that I think I have identified properly and seem the most shallowly planted. The bluebells I know by sight easily. They are way shallow, too, but I know of others in the yard that have come up from absurdly deep distances, so I am mostly worried about saving the Aconite and how it would react to mulch or deeper planting.

I am hoping that the ones that seem so exposed now aren't messed up by not being covered by clipping all season. I don't think so, but have no idea how to really go about working this as I have never planted, or tended them before.

Anyhow, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts on reviving this little area as far as what maybe best for the bulbs, even how deep the ones I dig up from the yard should realistically be planted I am all ears.

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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I am having trouble envisaging the situation you have there. Do the Winter Aconites etc. bloom? Because in my experience they grow and look at their best in grass. They are short and fairly small flowered and would be well nigh invisible in a flower bed. They are prime candidates for naturalising. You say they come back year after year, so what is the problem? If they are growing and increasing they clearly like the depth they are at and would not take kindly to being moved. Can you give us a photo of the situation? Without meaning to be judgemental a dollar store fence and black mulch sound far worse visually than spring bulbs naturalised in grass.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 4:31PM
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Thanks for the post, flora uk!

Yes, I am going outside to take pictures right now. I was looking on the computer when I posted this earlier yet couldn't locate pictures of this area with them in bloom for some reason. I'm off to take some now.

As far as the fence, yes, it is butt ugly! Basically it was only to keep the mow and blow guy from running over the area this past season so that I could get it weeded of the crabgrass and pinellia. I figured dollar store or not, "fence" was the universal signal for "Please do not mow here!". :)

Off to take pictures and put laundry in the dryer!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 5:53PM
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Okay, here is the scoop!

This used to be a single family house, long since broken into apartments. The neighbor has been here 40+ years. He told me the older lady who owned this house when they first bought theirs once had wonderful gardens. I have uncovered, thru much digging, remnants of long buried rock gardens, and various other clues to the original landscaping, including buried concrete that held posts for trellises and fences, etc..

This area was a spring bulb area that was once designated by a ring of rocks. Many are missing, though some are buried sort of deep, which I can feel when I sink a long screwdriver into the ground to try and pry them up. There seem to be a few nice stones quite buried, as well as maybe a couple small "levels" built around the edge.

Last year I began to think about bringing it back a little. This spring, I put up the white fence so that the lawn guy would not run right over it, and would keep out so I could weed out the crabgrass runners and pinellia that had taken over.

View from driveway:

Buried stones:

This edge looks like it had pockets between levels of stones:

Unfortunately, this whole circle is not only missing one whole side of stones, but the whole thing was basically taken over by weeds, crabgrass and various other stuff that for who knows how many years was mowed over. Rocks, spring flowers, weeds, etc, all smooshed back in the ground to turn back into "yard". Some years we hardly got to see any of the flowers, as they would be mowed down as quick as they came up, depending on when the guy showed up for the first time to do his mowing.

Opposite side of circle, into the yard, with the pink outline showing where the missing stones begin:

The missing stones were probably thrown aside to the edges of the property so that that inner section could be more easily run over by the lawnmowers over time.
Where the stones are the highest towards the front of the circle is where I began to stack a few I found in the yard, as well as where I pried them a bit up from being flush with the yard so I could slowly get a better look at what was going on. I have quite a few garden projects going, so this has basically been my "pass by project". When I pass by with a trowel in my hand, I pry up a rock a bit, and maybe pull some more weeds! :)

The picture with the outlines show the general area of known bulbs. The small red circle has some snowdrops and scillia (which in all these years I never saw bloom till this year because they did not get mowed down prior to flowering!). The pink ring shows the approx. area of naturalized Anconite bulbs. The blue ring and beyond, though more sparse past the blue into the yard is the area of crocus.

It is possible the garden included down the driveway as the drawn rings suggest, though I am inclined to think they have migrated and were once basically within the ring of rocks.

I would like to make the rock ring more pronounced and obvious so it will not get mowed over (without the terrible wire fence!). I do not mind at all the flowers that spring up in the yard. I do agree that these look wonderful when they spring from the grass! But, I would like an area where I am sure they won't be mowed down before we can even enjoy them! :) So, I would like to plant even more spring bulbs in the rock ring, without disturbing the existing bulbs too much. To do this I am trying to identify and learn more about the Anconite, which I am the most unfamilliar with.

What I have been noticing as I have been weeding this area and carefully digging out pinellia bulbs, is that the Anconite bulbs seem to be sitting right on the surface in many places. They almost look like tiny potatoes, for lack of any other way to describe them. Might these be them?

You can see here some of the Bluebells that are exposed now that the weeds are gone. I assume they were always this way and just went unnoticed as this area never got any attention at all.

These by the tree are half exposed, the ones on the surface I tossed there to remember to bury. obviously, the ones by the tree are pretty well uncovered.

I am concerned that by not having so much weed cover this season, maybe I am hurting the anconite. Or, perhaps I can pry up the rocks so that the edge is re-defined and will no longer be mowed over, fill in with oh, maybe 1 inch or so of garden soil in some spots, maybe a bit more in others depending on what I find when I dig the rocks up, and the Anconite will not mind being deeper, and under a light covering of mulch.

If the bulbs in the pictures are what I think they are, I imagine actually burying them at least an inch can't hurt. If some are deeper than that and not on the surface like these, perhaps they will still come up, even if I do put down a little more garden soil?

I bought a small number of new galanthus and scillia, as well as some other bulbs I would like to put in.

I definitely love the way the Anconite and crocus come up thru the grass, though I do want to recreate a bit of a more formal area within the stones. That way, if a bit more formal and not filled with crabgrass, it wont't get mowed down and other things can grow there, too.

I am curious if these little "potatoes" are indeed the Anconite bulbs, and any insight into how raising the level of the soil here may affect the bulbs already there.

Any and all ideas welcome! oh, bear in mind this is being done on the really, really cheap, so serious renovations may not be possible! And yes, it is not my dream yard, it is a rental and what I have to work with!! :)

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 9:20PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Yes - those are the Aconite corms.

It rather looks as if when you pulled up the weeds you took a good bit of the soil with them, so an inch of mulch would probably be a good idea. Maybe just use autumn leaves as looking most natural?

Ringing beds with rocks is not my taste in gardening so I'll stay out of any suggestions there. It is such a pity you have a manic mower on the loose, as my preference would be to remove all delineation of a 'bed' and just have the bulbs naturalised in the grass right up to the tree trunk. But that is UK style and probably not what you are wanting.

Here is a link that might be useful: Aconites under trees

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 1:00PM
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Thanks so much, flora, for identifying the aconite corms! That is definitely key to helping me figure this out!

That is a beautiful picture you linked to! I would certainly prefer this, but Manic Mower would make it impossible. :(

Yes, I do agree it looks like I have removed a good amount of dirt, but really, I didn't. I was really judicious removing the weeds as soon as they popped up and pulled so little dirt up that I was stumped as to weather these actually were the corms! They seemed like they were, but I doubted myself because they were so shallow. (Thanks for correcting my wording, BTW. I did know that, not sure why I kept saying bulbs?!?) The whole area was always covered in magnolia blossoms and other clippings, and I never looked close enough to see them before. I have no clue how they survived like this for so long, quite frankly. I was particularly careful since I did not want to budget in any garden soil at all. I dug out the Pinellia corms with a long skinny screwdriver so I could get under them, disturbing as little soil as possible. I never even used a hand trowel, though I did get chastised by my SO for using one of our kitchen serving spoons! It was just the right size! ;)

And yes, I do agree on the rock ringing, too. I personally prefer gardens that either break the "border", or which flow directly into either grassy areas or other pathways, some natural and some purposefully created paths. My decision to work with the rock is two-fold. One, I like the idea of allowing what is there and has been for years to continue to come back as the past gardener had intended, which I believe included rocks. Two, without the designation of the stones, it will certainly be run over year after year by the manic mower. (I like that, too, BTW! Manic Mower describes the situation completely!) At least this way there will be a portion of Aconites that go undisturbed within the formal ring of stone we can enjoy. Otherwise, they could be mowed down on any given day before we even get to enjoy them. This year he started late, so I had way more time to see how many and how far they reached, as well as see the few snowdrops, too. If it were my garden I would be doing things much differently as far as softening edges with plantings. Unfortunately, it is a shared space The only way to not have people driving onto lawns, essentially, it to build obvious rock edges. Oh well.

I'd love to have the rocks just sort of wax and wane and not have a definitive edge, just plantings creating the "borders". Past experience here has shown that any opening, big or small, means "drive mower thru here" like a beacon. If it were my yard it would be a different story. I'd pretty much say "You're fired!" :) The poor girl upstairs planted some tulips several years ago not far from this spot, and has never even seen them bloom! They come up in a cluster like little soldiers every year, and get mown down, every year. Poor fellas. He is pretty bad with vines too. The wisteria gets it's head chopped off every year, too, of course at the wrong time. Then, he leaves the vines all just still coiled to the porch railings and roof. Just, CHOP! Guess it is my job to actually remove the vines I never but once got to see bloom. Absurdity! As you can tell, I have a hard time using the word "landscaper" in this situation.

As an aside, I have made it clear that he is no longer needed to bring the mower out back, AT ALL! After the Hosta Carnage, it became my mission. It took a couple seasons of running outside when I heard him firing it up or cruising down the drive way to stop him and tell him please don't mow back here. I got so tired of all the grass clipping (read SEEDS) thrown into the gardens! Sometimes I would't be home and I would miss him, and I would always find some bad result. Took a long time to get him to understand no mowing the back here AT ALL, and this is the first year that there is actually just about no grass left, only garden beds. :)

I can totally use leaves to mulch this area. We will have plenty of those to go around. This is officially the first fall he will not be bringing his gigantic wind tunnel blower into the back yard, actually. I rake and rake and bring them to the front, yet he still blows the plants over in the back, parking the turbine right in the garden bed, even if there are hardly any leaves left. I watched him step on his last rosebush and plant, breaking it to the ground last year, and finally wrote to the landlord last month explaining that I will deal with the leaves this year, begging for no more giant wind turbine! It will be a huge job, but it is worth it to me. Hell, I raked most of them anyway, so it won't be much difference! I'll just have far fewer broken plants! +1 for me!

Thanks for your help and for reading my "Manic Mower"rantings. I obviously have seriously deep issues going on with that!

I appreciate your help and suggestions very much!!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 2:36PM
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bogturtle(SE NJ 7a)

Just planted them. dark gray-brown, dry and the size of peas. Was told to plant them 6 inches down. Do have a few, coming back for the last two years, but wanted more. If you have them already in the ground you do not have to worry about them being so dry, from the dealer, that they will not grow at all.
Finished, a year ago, renovating my little rock garden.
Dug up, potted and saved any wanted plants,in an area just for recuperation and nursery starts. Bought more rocks, but used all the ones that had become buried, as they always seem to. Have returned the plants and added many.
Dead leaves, the error of mulching, dead stuff from plants, etc. eventually bury rocks, unless they are big. And animals will dig holes and tunnels that cave in and the rocks drop lower. Still, it does look good, now.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 7:38PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

So how are you making out? Any updates?

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 6:27AM
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