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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A garden for every season

Pat Munts Correspondent

Right now Steve and Joan Hoitink’s woodland garden is reveling in the fall coolness and giving them a few more chances to enjoy its beauty. Soon, like everyone else, they will put it to bed and wait for spring.

But spring in the Hoitinks’ South Hill garden will come much earlier than most other gardens around here. There will likely be blooming plants showing up as early as March. There may still be snow on the ground.

Their secret? They plant lots of early blooming bulbs. “We had one (snowdrop) that was showing color on the last day of January last winter. By the middle of February we had quite a few up,” says Joan, the bulb expert of the pair. She admitted that this was a bit earlier than usual but said their garden is usually full of early blooms by March.

The Hoitinks’ garden is a perfect place for early bulbs to flourish. The summer canopy of leaves from a dozen Japanese maples and other deciduous trees won’t appear until late in the spring. Therefore, the ground under the trees gets lots of sun during the early spring which allows the bulbs’ leaves to collect sunlight before they are shaded by the trees.

Once the garden is shaded, the dying bulb foliage is neatly hidden under the other plants as they emerge.

Planting bulbs also solves some landscaping challenges for the Hoitinks. “Some places like on the side of our driveway are filled with invasive roots just under the surface,” says Joan. “But because the early spring bulbs have no competition (from the tree), they do beautifully. For me that is a great opportunity to grow bulbs in places that are not suitable of other plants.”

The Hoitinks don’t fuss over the bulbs much. Other than a little bone meal worked into the bottom of a new planting hole, they don’t fertilize. The bulbs get watered along with the other plants in the garden.

The biggest problem the Hoitinks have is remembering where they planted bulbs so they don’t dig into a clump when they are planting something else.

Joan marks some of the more expensive or rare patches of bulbs with large spikes set around the edges of the patch. “They get rusted over and aren’t too conspicuous,” she says adding that the nails can’t be mistaken for sticks. They also use trimmings from their bamboo plants to mark plantings.

They usually plant a number of bulbs in large clumps to increase their visibility. “All these (bulbs) wouldn’t be good by themselves,” says Steve, adding that in mass and as a background for other plants (they are nice).

The Hoitinks have lost count of the number of different types of bulbs they grow. After 40 years of working their garden, many of the bulbs have multiplied and colonized large parts of the garden.

They do have their favorites though and now is the perfect time to plant them. Below are just a few of their top bloomers. You will have to look a little harder to find them in some cases but they are well worth the hunt. All except the crocus are deer resistant.

Snowdrops or galanthus: The tightly wrapped leaves and bud of this small bulb can push up through the snow. The dainty white flowers then unfurl and hang like small bells. Plant them under trees and along walks where you can see them.

Anemones: These 2-nch daisy-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink and blue appear in March above a low carpet of feathery leaves and last for several weeks. They multiply readily creating a carpet of flowers.

Trout lily or erythronium: The Hoitinks grow six varieties of this woodland plant. The six-petaled flower hangs above the leaves with its petals rolled upwards. Yellow is the most common color but some varieties come in violet, white and pink. It blooms around mid-spring before the daffodils.

Dwarf iris or iris reticulate: Imagine the familiar iris but only 4- to 6- inches tall. These bold blue and yellow flowers usually bloom in very early April. Plant them near walks or windows you look out often.

Species crocus: These are a little smaller and bloom earlier that the Dutch crocus we are all familiar with. They come in all the familiar shades of white, violet, yellow and blue their larger cousins come in.

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