Planting Beyond the Flowerbeds

Bulbs in the Orchard

We don’t really know how any of this stuff actually works, but we observe year after year that the most disease-free and thriving gardens and orchards are ones planted diversely. Bring in the good bugs, the birds and the moths with an assortment of blossoms from perennials and bulbs across the growing seasons.

Narcissus Rings We’ve mentioned this flower in our Trees catalog when we wrote about orchard companions—perennials that bring health and balance to our fruit-tree plantings. Daffodils deter mice and voles from girdling tree trunks, and the deer don’t like them. Plant them tightly (bulb to bulb) in a ring about 12" from tree trunks. They bloom before the perennials and start to wilt and decline when the newly emerging plants are ready to spread out. We also plant our narcissus in clumps among the other orchard companions, which include comfrey, yarrow, mint, columbine, hyssop, Baptisia, cranesbill and daisies.

Garlic Galore We’ve been underplanting and interplanting garlic with fruit trees and ornamentals for years. It repels unwanted molds and fungi, as well as aphids, mites and borers. You can leave this garlic in the ground and let it scatter its bulbils to make a dense stand that can cozy up among other orchard companions.

We don’t consider this garlic our prize stash for the larder—we still grow some in a regular garden bed. Alternately you could plant the garlic in a looser ring around a fruit tree and heavily mulch with rich compost so the heads sized up for a decent harvest.

Feeding the pollinators

Planting for beauty is satisfying and some would argue (and we would agree) that ornamental plants are soul food that help make us right somehow. We who can wander in gardens are the lucky ones. When the show-stopping plants also play a role in the ecosystem and have actual jobs—not just pretty faces to stare out—even better! With all this in mind, consider Crocuses. Very early delightful whites, purples, creams and yellows emerging while the last snow falls on the robin’s back. The bees will go nuts for these! Plant en masse and then plant more every year. They bloom when there is little else for pollinator forage.

Muscari Grape Hyacinth follow, adding more early to mid-spring blooms on the heels of the crocuses. They last for the better part of a month and the bees seem to have no trouble climbing into the elongated bells of this adorable flower.

Corydalis solida Fumewort is another spring ephemeral that offers midspring nectar to our hummingbirds just returning from their long and arduous migration. Corydalis is an important wildflower genus that includes many species, like the C. sempervirens we sometimes see growing on rocky outcroppings in Maine. If you ever wander upon these in the later summer or early fall, collect a few seeds and scatter them in your garden bed. You won’t regret it, and neither will the pollinators.

Apples, pears, plums and peaches are all blooming while the Narcissus are peaking. It’s a great kickoff to start the summer insect party.

When planting for pollinators, keep in mind that they mostly go for the single-petaled flowers. Pollinators struggle to access the cultivars with double petals. So shake up your mix to include some of each.