Minding the Gap

Some of the last bouquets before the “gap” period…Sonnet Tulips, hellebores, lilac, Solomon’s Seal, Yellow Cheerfulness daffodil

In many growing areas, including my Zone 5 gardens, there is a “gap” in cut flower production in May. Depending upon the area, the weather, and when seeds were sown that gap can be one to three weeks. That’s not saying there are no flowers, for there are many blooms in the gardens but few of them are good for cutting (irises come to mind.)

Last year, my gap was from May 5 when the last of the tulips were picked to May 18 when there was finally enough stock, asters and shastas to make a few bouquets again. Things improved greatly by May 24 when there was much more of the above flowers plus the ranunculus, anemones and calendulas began to bloom as well. So, what am I doing to attempt to fill the gap so those who need a bouquet to lift their spirits don’t have to wait so long?

First of all, I’ve added more late flowering daffodils I don’t know if any will extend further into May, but there are hundreds more reputed to be late-flowering in the newly planted rows. The latest last year was “Stef” with “Sweet Ocean just a bit before.” Who knows with our crazy weather anymore when things may or may not bloom?

The last daffodil to bloom “Stef” I love it with my orange tulips in the Deck Garden and couldn’t make myself pick the very last one!

Last year I planted short rows of test tulips to see which flowered earliest and latest. One of the winners for “late” was “Sonnet,” the wine lily-flowered tulip with the gold edge in the front row which paired so well with my dark burgundy hellebores. When I was making May bouquets, I wished I had a hundred “Sonnets,” so this year if all goes according to plan, I will! Plus a few hundred other lily and peony-flowered tulips that are supposed to be late bloomers.

Trialing some tulips last year for the latest bloomers

Doubling the number of ranunculus and starting half of them 10 days earlier should also help fill the gap. Last year the ranunculus were ready to harvest on May 24, but I’m going to push half by a) warming up the soil by using a plastic covered berry box several weeks in advance of planting out time b) moving half the sprouted corms into individual pots so there is less root disturbance at planting time c) using a lightweight floating row cover inside the low tunnel to help reduce cooling soil at night d) actually presprouting half the corms 10 days earlier than last year. Some or all of those strategies should help fill the gap. I’m also growing more varieties of ranunculus, but whether that will make a difference or not only time will tell.

A May bouquet with ranunculus, parsley blooms, shasta, lysimachia, valerian and the first gold yarrow

Last year I did a terrible job with anemones! Only 1 out of 10 experimental corms actually produced a usable flower. I don’t think I even took a photo of it but it bloomed May 13, so they could definitely help fill the gap if I can learn to grow them properly. So with crossed fingers and a bit more knowledge I’ve already pre-sprouted 25 (so far, so good) and will be doing another 25 today.

Here’s what they will look like if I am successful!

I’ve also decided to trial a few freesias, which I’ve never grown before but always thought I would like to. Time is running out, so if I want to do it I’d better get on the stick! So, the freesias are now pre-sprouting in the basement, where they will be staying for a long, long time since (unlike ranunculus and anemones) they love heat rather than cool temperatures. Will they bloom during the gap? If my math is correct and all goes well they will, but I think I will enjoy their fragrance and colors no matter when they bloom. And, if I don’t get it right maybe I can make adjustments and do better next year. Or, I may decide they are too much trouble and drop them!

Never grown them before, but excited to try! Double flowered freesias.

I’ve also encouraged the hellebores to flower more by moving out some crowding volunteer seedlings to a nursery bed and giving the mature plants a layer of compost before winter set in. There are white, pink, and burgundy plants that have been pretty much neglected for years but they are getting more attention now for their long bloom period. This year, I’m also going to move some into less dense shade to attempt to get some earlier blooms. Mine are on the Fairy Slope, shaded by the fence and gazebo and rarely bloom before May!

White hellebores on the Fairy Slope, so valuable but so little to go with them during the gap!

Another lovely spring bulb that blooms during the gap period is Silver Bells (Ornithogalum nutans) I’ve had a clump in the Blue Garden and another clump on the north side of the potager fence for years but didn’t realize what a nice little cut flower they could be until I was desperate for some flowers for centerpieces for a May event two year ago. So that fall, I planted 100 more in the North Slope. Since I’d never had any trouble before, I didn’t bother to check on them as they emerged, but the rabbits certainly did and ate every one down to the ground! I put wire cages over them but little growth appeared after that. Whether they will return this year is yet to be seen, but I’m crossing my fingers and installing the wire cage over them early just in case they have enough strength to emerge.

If the rabbits didn’t destroy them, silver bells can certainly help fill the gap!

I’m excited to see if all my plotting and planning yields good results. Some people may spend their winter days doing jigsaw puzzles; I enjoy trying to solve horticultural puzzles. The satisfaction of completion is much delayed, but entirely worth the effort!


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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7 Responses to Minding the Gap

  1. Su says:

    I love the fact that you are continually experimenting and that you actually learn from your experiments. Good luck with the anemones, and I hope the rabbits were defeated.


    • carolee says:

      Part of the fun of growing is the experimentation…new plants, new techniques, new scheduling, etc….at least for me! So far so good with the anemones…too early to tell with the rabbits!


  2. bcparkison says:

    It will all be beautiful when Spring finely makes herself known.


  3. jorjagrael says:

    I’m kinda jealous of your basement! I don’t have one, but I have a few bulbs blooming on the windowsill.


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