I write about what is on my mind, and right now my mind is up to its meninges in containers. At the moment I'm hacking out a chapter about summer bulbs and their advantages for old folks like me.Summer bulbs are brown lumps that are usually not winter hardy, and they're starting to dribble into the stores now. If you're lucky you can find them loose in big boxes and pick out the best, which is a good reason to shop early. The ones prepacked in bags are often somewhat lesser quality, though still perfectly usable.
If the effort of sticking a bulb in soil is intimidating, many can be bought later in spring already growing in pots. But just because you can't see them, that doesn't mean the bulbs and tubers aren't under there, and they can be saved for another year.
Bulbs produce large plants fast on a tiny condo terrace or balcony. And if you escape to warmer climes in winter, just dig the bulbs out and throw them in a shoe box under the bed to wait until you come back in spring.
What would you rather have outside your door: a boring geranium or a four foot rainbow leafed canna? A pot of petunias or a stunning dahlia covered with four inch flowers? Dinky wax begonias or a flamboyant tuberous begonia?
The geranium, the petunia, the wax begonias will die at the end of the season. With only a small effort, the bulbs will see another year and be even bigger and better.
My favorite for a sunny spot is dahlias The 48 inch ones grow to about eight feet, which is too big for a small terrace, but many are small enough for containers. And while the big guys are late summer and fall flowers, container dahlias start blooming in early summer. Or late spring if you buy them potted and in bloom.
If you like bright, bright red, you can't beat Red Pygmy, if you can find the tubers. The Gallery series gives you a full range of colors, each color named after a different artist. Galleries are often grown from cuttings (a hint for those who want to multiply the dahlias they already have) and sold in bloom in May. After flowering prolifically all summer, the cuttings will form tubers by October.
For a tall element, you can't beat cannas. Most people grow them for their flowers, but there are fancy leafed varieties like Tropicanna that are sensational even before they bloom. Lately Tropicanna and its cousin, Tropicanna Gold, are being sold potted and already growing, but they still have tubers that you can save over winter.
Standard cannas will grow to five or six feet in a generous pot. If that is too much for your small space, there are dwarf varieties.
Change the "n's to "l's and you have callas which, like cannas, are often called lilies but they aren't. Callas used to come in white and yellow but the breeders have been diligently working on them. Now there are callas in many colors and sizes. Dwarfs stay under a foot. Standards are twice that.
For shady spots, there is nothing like tuberous begonias. These flowers are so big and bright that they match any sun lover. The earlier you can get them started indoors, the sooner they will bloom outside.
If I drop by your condo this summer and see a geranium, I'm going to be very unhappy with you, and I won't be shy about expressing it. And if five minutes spent digging the bulbs out in fall is too much trouble for you, give me a call.