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Rediscovering our roots

A bulb hunter on a rescue mission.

By Katie LeslieThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP / March 3, 2009



Atlanta

 Chris Wiesinger is on a rescue mission: keeping heirloom bulbs alive in the Southern landscape.

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In search of the graceful long-stemmed flowers that have flourished for 50 to 100 years in the South's warm climates, the Texas-based horticulturist ventures to abandoned homesites, rundown farms and inner-city lots to rescue bulbs that he will reproduce and sell through his Southern Bulb Co.

From the Atlanta area, he's rescued tiger lily, Roman hyacinth, and crinum.
While saving the bulbs — with the permission of the landowner — he learns the story of each and passes on a piece of Southern history, a heritage encapsulated within a simple, fertile vessel.

"I feel it, I sense it, and I try to convey it," he says. "My whole life senses that connection to our past."

Over the weekend Wiesinger spoke about his adventures hunting bulbs at the Georgia Perennial Plant Association and Atlanta Botanical Garden's spring symposium "Back to Our Roots: The Southern Garden Revisited," which also addresses organic and vegetable gardening practices.

"They have a true Southern aesthetic," he says, referencing crinum — summer-blooming flowers known for trumpet-like blossoms. "They make a huge color impact yet are fitting to the environment and play well with others. ... This is an investment for your garden."

It's not too late to order spring-planted bulbs (also known as summer-blooming bulbs) that will burst with color in June, July, and August.

Wiesinger shares these tips for bringing a touch of yesteryear into your modern garden:

What to plant this spring: Ideal bulbs for the Atlanta landscape (and other Zone 7 areas) include crinum, rain lily, canna, gladiolus, and hymenocallis.

Just remember to wait until the last threat of deep freeze has passed. (Most Atlantans plant bulbs in late April to early May.)

Best bulbs for beginners: Crinum lilies, which Wiesinger says are effortless summer-blooming bulbs.

Where and how to plant: Most bulbs love the sun, so look for a spot where they will receive a half day of sunlight. Wiesinger also suggests planting the bulbs in groups of three. Prep the soil by adding expanded shale and using an even ratio slow-release fertilizer (10-10-10, for example)

Watering requirements: Minimal watering needed. Current drught restrictions that alow people to hand-water their gardens on specified days for 25 minutes would more than meet a bulb's requirement. (Hand-watering means using a garden hose with a spray nozzle that shuts off when not in use.)

Wiesinger adds that Atlanta's natural rainfall (even amid a drought) is sufficient.

Winter storage: Southern Bulb Co. bulbs do not need to be dug up and stored during the winter, but this can vary from area to area, so Wiesinger suggests checking with your local bulb seller about a bulb's hardiness.

Pairing suggestions: Try rain lily with liriope for an ethereal look, crinum with salvia, or crinum with fall-planted bulbs such as the spider lily.

(Editor's note: We invite you to visit the main page of the Monitor’s gardening site , where you can find many articles, essays, and blog posts on various garden topics.)