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Garden Journal

Foreign bulbs will live long and prosper

By Paul Barbano | Oct 02, 2013
Siberian Squill is a low-growing small flower of a deep electric gentian blue.

Every Star Trek fan knows the Vulcan salute of a raised hand, palm forward with the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger, and the thumb extended. In his autobiography “I Am Not Spock,” Leonard Nimoy tells us that the famous Vulcan salute is based on the priestly blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin, whose three upward strokes stand for Shaddai, meaning “Almighty (God).” The Vulcan salute has the accompanying greeting of “Live long and prosper.”

While not from Vulcan, there are many small foreign bulbs in the garden that will indeed live long and prosper. Take the exotic Siberian squill (Scilla siberica.) Plant it once, and if it is happy, it will not only live long, it will indeed prosper and spread. Siberian squill is a low-growing small flower of a deep electric gentian blue. The dark grass-like leaves pop out of the ground very early in spring, quickly followed by one or more six-inch stalks or racemes of flowers. Each stalk will have several individual flowers up to an inch across. The flowers are dark blue with a single deep blue vein running down the middle. The flowers are lightly scented and last for up to three weeks.

Native to Russia, these guys are tough and can live right through early spring snows or heavy rains. The flowers will form seed pods that ripen, brown and burst open to release many small maroon seeds.

As spring turns to summer, the leaves die back and the plants stay dormant until the following year. Unlike tulips or other bulbs, Siberian squill are never eaten by squirrels, chipmunks or deer.

Scillas bloom freely in full sun or light shade. Like most bulbs, they prefer well-drained soil. Plant them in large clumps so they will bloom en masse. Try to plant about 20 bulbs per square foot for best results. They do well in lightly shaded woods and contrast well with early yellow daffodils. Because they are so short, you can plant them in the front of borders, or tuck them into rock gardens.

In addition to the common bright blue variety Spring Beauty, there is the pure white Alba and the species Scilla sibirica taurica with light blue flowers. Grown in gardens since at least 1796, Siberian squill is hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8.

To plant Siberian squill in your lawn, toss the small bulbs across the lawn. Then take a bulb planter and dig a hole two to three inches deep, where each bulb has fallen. A cordless drill with a special bulb bit helps. You can plant them along with snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), giant crocus (Crocus vernus), and winter aconite or wolfbane (Eranthis hyemalis). Drop the bulb pointed side up into each hole and gently fill with dirt. Water well to firm the soil and close any air pockets.

After your squills finish blooming in the spring, wait for the leaves to die down before mowing the lawn.

You can find Siberian squill in most garden centers or nurseries or by mail from specialty growers such as White Flower Farm.

Siberian squill is also good for potting up and forcing into bloom indoors. Plant Siberian squill now, and you will truly have something that will live long and prosper. You can even pick them and present them to your friends, Star Trek fans or not, along with the little-known Vulcan response,  “Peace and long life.”

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