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Precocious Beauties

By Ken Druse

Like the crocus, these precocious flowers are known as “minor bulbs”—for their small size, and perhaps because they are less significant than the showstoppers of mid-spring. But what would you think of a thick tuft of fragrant white pointed petals washed in azure with etched lines of Chinese porcelain blue (Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica)? Or a bulb (Chionodoxa sardensis) that naturalizes as if it were wild on a hillside like the one at Wave Hill, the public garden in the Bronx? How about nodding bells decorated with perfect squares in a checkerboard pattern, pale purple on brownish violet (Fritillaria meleagris)? This Fritillaria is known by the names checkered lily, snake’s head flower, or guinea hen flower. In order to get the particular bulb you want, you must know the precise Latin name.


Whatever you call them, these inexpensive bulbs deliver, often for decades. Good things do indeed come in small packages, and any flower that defies the cold is bound to warm the heart of a gardener.


Ken Druse is the author of 16 books on gardening, a frequent contributor to The New York Times, and a media personality with his own weekly Sirius radio program, “Ken Druse—REAL DIRT.” Ken can be reached at

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