July 2003
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Garden design using shade plants and shade trees   

Gardening Newsletter - July 2003, Issue 11

It seems like the last month has just flown by since the last newsletter !  I hope you enjoy the newsletter.

Rebecca Green

Itís July: Time to Order Bulbs!

I use to dismiss bulbs. I thought the animals ate most of them and I perceived daffodils as boring. As such, I wasnít very enthusiastic about taking a course on bulbs, but it was a requirement of the New York Botanical Gardenís Horticulture: Plant Identification curriculum. So, like a good little girl, I dutifully attended the bulb classes every week.

What I learned in that course has forever changed my perspective on bulbs! There are plenty of wonderful bulbs animals donít eat. Unlike tulips, many bulbs freely naturalize themselves, providing new free flowers every year. Best yet, I learned about many exciting daffodils, which are now one of my favorite species of plants.

Now a converted believer in bulbs, I must make-up for all those lost years of ignorance. Come July I anxiously check the mailbox everyday in hopes of receiving a new bulb catalog. Poring over the catalogs, I want them all, but alas my back won't let me plant that many. Grudgingly I limit myself to several hundred each year, dreaming of the time my garden will be a blanket of blooms.

Donít fear that because you have shade you canít have bulbs. Many bulbs naturally grow in woodlands and can tolerate a fair amount of shade.

Here are some of my favorite shade loving bulbs:

ArumArum (lords-and-ladies)

The best word to describe the 26 species of plants in the genius Arum is funky. Arum are naturally found in the mountains of the Himalayas and the Mediterranean. They get leaves in the fall and spikes covered with flaming red or glowing orange berries in the spring.

Arum are extremely poisonous, especially the roots and berries. The leaves contain calcium oxalate, which is irritating to the skin.

However, if you boil the tuberous root of the Arum the poison in the root will break down and no longer be poisonous. As such, boiled Arum was commonly served during the Irish potato blight. The French also used this boiled starch as a face powder.

The word Arum has two roots. The Greek word ďaronĒ means plant. The Arabic word ďarĒ means hot. It is possible the plant was named Arum due to the burning sensation it creates on the skin.

Arum may be very fragrant. Some Arum donít smell bad, but others are terrible.

While Arums take sun or shade, they do need a far amount of moisture during the growing season. In the winter they need relatively dry soil.

Colchicum autumnaleColchicum autumnale

Colchicum autumnale is a member of the Liliaceae family. However, this unusual plant has its own unique personality, which is totally different than your everyday lily.

The flower of Colchicum autumnale looks like a crocus. Yet it differs from a crocus in several important ways. Colchicum blooms in the fall, while crocus bloom in the early spring. While crocus have three stamens, Colchicum has six stamens. Nevertheless, its otherwise strong resemblance to crocus has earned Colchicum the common name of Autumn crocus.

In the early spring Colchicum gets large leaves that resemble hosta. These leaves ripen (turn yellow, wilt, and eventually die). During the summer months there is no visible sign above ground that Colchicum have been planted. However, in about September lovely pastel flowers pop up out of the ground. After a few weeks the flowers die and Colchicum goes into hiding until the next spring.

Just as many people are anxious to cut the dieing leaves off of daffodils (Narcissus species) once the flowers are done, you will probably be tempted to cut off the dieing Colchicum leaves in the spring. However, it is important that you do not do this until the leaves have completely died, as they are making food for the bulb. If the leaves are cut off the plant cannot produce food, will not produce flowers and, possibly will die.

Colchicum are extremely poisonous. Several hours after the plant is eaten the individualís mouth will start to burn. Other symptoms are low blood pressure and body temperature, vomiting and, diarrhea. Death is possible.


Even if you didn't know what they were called, almost everyone has seen Fritillaria. Fritillaria's flowers resemble nodding tulips and are frequently checkered. The foliage resembles that of a pineapple plant. Fritillaria have an unforgettable fragrance, similar to that of a skunk, which keeps most animals and many people away.

There are numerous species of Fritillaria, which are generally categorized as either crown imperials or dwarfs for the rock garden. Crown imperials may reach a height of three feet and are the type most commonly sold. They bear yellow, orange-red and, red flowers. They are native to India, Afghanistan, and Iran. The dwarf kinds are less than a foot tall. The dwarfs are native to Japan, Alaska, and the West Coast.

The name Fritillaria comes from the word fritillus, which means chessboard, referring to the checkered pattern that many Fritillaria flowers wear.

Fritillaria are a nice alternative to tulips for the garden that is partially shady or visited by animals. They generally bloom in April. Fritillaria are their most attractive if allowed to naturalize into large clumps. They are perfect at the edge of a woodland. The bright orange and yellow crown imperials make a statement even at a distance.

GalanthusGalanthus (snowdrop)

Galanthus earns its common name, snowdrop, by being one of the earliest bulbs to bloom, frequently blooming in the snow. A native to Europe and Asia Minor, it has naturalized in much of the United States.

Once planted, leave Galanthus undisturbed. They will slowly increase in number each year, forming great drifts that can live for decades.

The common snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis, which is only about 6 inches tall. Galanthus elwesii is the giant snowdrop, growing to about 12 inches tall.

Galanthus is in the same family as Narcissi (daffodils), Amaryllidaceae. Many bulbs in this family are poisonous. Galanthus contains lycorine and related alkaloids. If ingested they can cause severe stomach upset.

The name Galanthus refers to the plantís flowers. It is derived from two words: gala, meaning milk and; anthos, meaning flower.

ScillaScilla (squill)

Scilla, commonly called squill, blankets the ground with blue and white flowers in early spring. If left undisturbed they will self sow, gradually spreading.

These delightful flowers belong to the lily family, Liliaceae. Like several other members of this family, they are poisonous. Scilla is an old Greek name.

NarcissusNarcissus (daffodils)

The common names for Narcissi are so confusing; it makes one appreciate the simplicity of the botanical name. The botanical name Narcissus is that of a mythological Greek youth who changed into a flower. The name daffodil comes from the Dutch de affodil and the Greek asphodelos. Daffodil can be used to refer to Narcissi, which have large trumpets, or it can refer to all daffodils. Jonquil is a type of daffodil with grass-like foliage, but is used by some as a name for all Narcissi.

There are many different types of daffodils. Typically they have trumpeted or cupped flowers, which are sometimes double. They may be yellow, white, gold, orange, pink, reddish, or bicolored flowers. Some are very fragrant. There are even dwarf daffodils, which are my favorites. In fact there are so many different varieties of daffodils they are categorized into twelve different divisions based on their characteristics.

Most daffodils can grow anywhere in the United States. While they will grow in any well-drained soil, they prefer sandy, organic soil. They will tolerate sun or light shade.

Daffodils are easy to plant. For large species plant the bulbs about eight inches deep. If the species is small, plant them about five inches deep. The bulbs should be planted in the early fall, although the farther south you are the later you should plant your bulbs. In the extreme south, plant them in December.

When flowering has declined, divide the bulbs in late summer. Do not separate an offset (baby bulb) from the parent bulb unless it has a basal plate (a flat bottom with roots growing out of it).

That's all for now. If you have any comments or questions on the newsletter, please email us at


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