As a professional horticulturist who has been gardening for at least 50 years, Ken Brown can’t remember a time when he wasn’t passionate about gardening in general. But, since moving to his suburban Whitby, Ontario, home 15 years ago, he has developed a special love affair with spring-blooming bulbs, having planted more than 5,000 of them over the years. His entire front garden is a mosaic of colour and texture, a real treat for passersby who enjoy an extraordinary bulb show that lasts for weeks. We asked Ken to tell us about this passion.
Where do you find inspiration for your garden?
My English wife, Moyra Dobson, has fond memories of drifts of spring bulbs in the British gardens of her youth. I try to recreate that vision for her. She appreciates my efforts and is always happy to offer an opinion on my level of success. So far, so good!
What are your favourite bulbs and why?
I love tulips because there is a whole spectrum of colours to choose from and the blooms come in so many different forms. Few plant species offer such versatility. By choosing early, mid-season and late varieties you can have a succession of bloom for eight weeks or more. I also like alliums and fritillarias. Both these species have unusual varieties that are fun to try.
Do you let them naturalize?
It’s too much work to remove and replant. When something dies out it gives me an excuse to replace it with a newer variety.
Do you like to experiment?
I own an online website (gardening-enjoyed.com) that provides gardeners with advice, so my garden is my studio and laboratory. I experiment with new plants, methods and products so I can report my experiences to my readers through the site and the newsletter that I distribute. One thing I like to experiment with is pushing the hardiness zones, that is, to plant things that are not supposed to overwinter successfully in my Zone 5 garden. I’m often pleasantly surprised.
Which plants grow in the garden come summer?
As spring turns to summer, peonies, daylilies, Asiatic lilies and irises take over the spotlight. As they mature they camouflage the bulbs’ withering foliage and create an entirely different display. I also grow vegetables among the perennials.