Debra Prinzing

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It’s time to think about spring in the garden

January 13th, 2009

Yes, it may only be the second week of January, but our Noble firs and cedar boughs are now past their prime (and in my case, at least) cut up and ready for recycling in the yard-waste bin.

Onward to spring!

To get me in the mood, I have this inspiring drawing pinned next to my desk.

My friend Jean Zaputil, an artist and garden designer, illustrated and hand-colored it as a most charming New Year greeting.

The scene depicts a songbird perched on top of a hellebore, with the wistful and compelling lines, which read:

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” 

[attributed to Percy Byssne Shelley]

Perhaps this saying will give you something to hold onto in the dormant months of winter! Spring is coming soon!

Also getting me in the mood for spring: Country Gardens’ early spring 2009 edition, which just arrived in my mailbox. 

I opened it up to find my story about friend and designer Bonnie Manion, owner of Mon Petit Chou, a vintage design business based in Encinitas, California. Bonnie blogs at VintageGardenGal – a cheery and charming spot to visit – you’ll want to do so frequently!

The story, commissioned by James A. Baggett, editor of Country Gardens, is called “Tour de Forced Bulbs,” and it features Bonnie’s designs pairing forced spring bulbs with forced flowering branches – arranged in vintage containers.

Here is the story in its entirety. A shorter version appears in the magazine, along with the step-by-step instructions for planting a container with hyacinth bulbs and pussywillow branches. The story was photographed by Ed Gohlich and produced by field editor Andrea Caughey.

TOUR de FORCED BULBS: Get a jump on the season by pairing vintage vessels with spring-fresh forced bulbs to create uniquely charming displays.

The promise of spring appears in fresh-green leaves emerging from the pointed tops of daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and amaryllis bulbs at Bonnie Manion’s garden in Encinitas, California. Swelling buds on her flowering trees – apricot, plum and peach – hint at new growth about to unfurl into delicate blossoms and tender foliage.

Bonnie, a collector and purveyor of garden antiques and cottage décor, celebrates the season’s arrival by growing a multitude of flowering bulbs. But instead of digging holes in the ground for her many bulb varieties, this clever gardener relies on unique vintage containers for forcing and displaying masses of spring blooms.

She named her vintage design business Mon Petit Chou (translated from French, it is a term of endearment meaning “my little cabbage head”). The whimsical phrase encompasses her love of French antiques and American barnyard implements alike.

“I look for pieces with a history but that can also be repurposed and used in a fabulous new way,” Bonnie explains. She custom-designs her arrangements for special events and commissions, often advising customers about what to plant inside a chipped enamel kettle, a wire market basket or even an intricately-carved wooden drawer.

Come springtime, Bonnie considers flowering bulbs and branches as the perfect partners.

Some gardeners are intimidated by forcing bulbs, but to Bonnie, nothing could easier. “In a way, bulbs are similar to a chicken egg in that they are also one of nature’s perfect self-contained packages,” she says. “They have everything that’s required to bloom into a flower. There’s a lot of simplicity to growing them.”

Using fresh-cut branches, the flower and leaf buds of which have yet to open, requires little effort, Bonnie adds. Whether brought indoors for flower arranging, or used as accents to planted containers, the tiny buds slowly open until flowers gracefully unfurl. “They last quite a while, especially if you keep the branches in water,” she advises.

With a spring palette ranging from soft pastels to bright primary colors, bulbs and branches pair companionably with timeworn artifacts of the past. “I like the yin-and-yang of it. To me, the weathered patina of old containers goes well with the colors of my spring bulbs.”

To grow bulbs in containers, Bonnie begins with the right vessel, selecting an eye-catching piece with a generously-sized opening at the top. Bulbs don’t require much root space, meaning that even a four-inch-deep wooden box is adequate as a planter. Deeper containers can be used as well. “You can keep the soil level low around the bulbs, and use the height of the container to support bulbs such as paper whites or amaryllis, as they grow tall and reach for sunlight,” Bonnie says.

Interesting vintage containers include chicken feeders, tool carriers, old boxes or pails, hay racks, sugar tins, large and small funnels, oil cans, children’s wagons or carts, old urns, kitchen strainers – “virtually any container with a wonderful vintage character,” she says.

Bonnie’s finished designs look spontaneously fresh. “I get a lot of my plant and container ideas from my travels,” explains this vintage garden gal.

She frequents large and small flea markets and other off-beat vintage garden antique sources around the country and occasionally visits Europe for inspiration. “I might see a single potted rose in a Paris flower shop. Or, I’ll discover a dramatic floral arrangement in a London hotel lobby and try to recreate it at home.”

Bulb-filled vintage containers never fail to make a statement. “Put them in a setting in your garden where you need some ornamentation,” Bonnie suggests. “You can have fun bringing old pieces back to life and making them functional again. Get as creative as you like, and your pieces will be uniquely you!”

Forcing Bulbs

Try Bonnie Manion’s methods of planting spring-flowering bulbs in an unusual vintage or salvaged container. Look for blooms that will show off the best features of the vessel, such as crimson-streaked tulips that echo the red painted handle of an enamel kettle. Here are some tips:

Check out one of Bonnie’s favorite bulb sources: Easy-to-Grow Bulbs.

Forcing Branches

Young branches of woody trees and shrubs are supple and pliable in the spring. This makes them easy to weave into trellis-like designs as Bonnie has done. If you cut the branches before their flower or leaf buds open, you can bring them indoors for long-lasting vase arrangements. Better yet, add cut branches to outdoor containers as a complement to spring bulbs. Here are some general guidelines:

3 Responses to “It’s time to think about spring in the garden”

  1. Hilery - Desert Greenhouse Guide Says:

    I picked up this magazine a couple days ago and was absolutely glued to it! Even though most of the plants are not suitable to grow in the desert Southwest, there are always comprable plants and the inspiration is divine.

  2. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Ooh, I’ll go get a copy. Wonderful “copy,” my friend. I used to subscribe & then, somehow, that lapsed, or they changed things for awhile. I also have a story in Oklahoma Gardener about attracting birds to your backyard garden. Need to see it in publication. Love ya,~~Dee

  3. childrens toys Says:

    Commenting usually isnt my thing, but ive spent an hour on the site, so thanks for the info

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