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These bulbs do well in soggy soil

October 7, 2018

There’s a little spot right behind my house that is clearly visible from the kitchen table. It’s a perfect place to plant some spring-blooming bulbs for an early-season show we can enjoy from indoors looking out. But for this particular site, not just any bulbs will do.

Daffodils and tulips would quickly rot in the poorly drained clay soil, where extra water is delivered via a downspout. But a summersweet clethra shrub, which in the wild prefers wet places, is thriving there. And so, too, it turns out, are guinea hen flowers (Fritillaria meleagris). Grown from small bulbs, their charming bell-like blossoms are usually a checkered mix of purple and white, occasionally pure white.

Two other common names for guinea hen flower are checkered lily and snake’s head fritillary. Their native home is in Europe’s lowland meadows. The stems stand only about 10 inches tall, so you’ll want to plant them close to a walk, a window, or a deck, where you can enjoy them up close and personal.

A bulb called camass (Camassia species) is another choice for planting in a site where the soil is too wet for most of the more common bulbs. Its tall spikes of starry flowers come in your choice of blue, purple, or cream. The blossoms look like oversized Siberian squills or somewhat like wild hyacinths.

Unlike the flowers of guinea hen bulbs, camass blossoms are big enough to be showy even from a distance, and they’re also lovely in bouquets.

One of the few bulbs that is native to North America, camass bulbs were a source of food for northwest Indian tribes and also for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Winter’s cold is never a problem for camass; these bulbs are exceptionally cold-hardy.

Yet another choice bulb that will perform just fine in soggy soil is summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum). Despite the name, these bulbs bloom not in summer but in mid to late spring, with stalks of white bell-shaped flowers. The flower stalks typically grow 12 to 18 inches tall, although there’s also a 20-inch tall variety called Gravetye Giant that looks like lily-of-the-valley on steroids.

Native to Europe and Asia, summer snowflake will naturalize in the garden, providing plenty of extra flower stalks you can cut for bouquets.

If all of your soil is well-drained, you can still plant guinea hen, camass, and summer snowflake bulbs. They’ll be equally happy planted in regular garden soil. Another plus: All three are resistant to browsing by deer and other animals. The bulbs of summer snowflake are also as resistant to voles as daffodils, the most famous of the critter-resistant bulbs.

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