For spring-blooming bulbs, plan now to plant in fall.
If you're interested in spring-blooming bulbs, including daffodils and tulips, this is a good time to do some exploring. Unusual, new and rare bulbs sell out early, so ordering ahead is essential.
Here are some of my favorite mail-order sites. Check the hardiness zone for the bulbs you're ordering; Kentucky is Zone 6.
■ Easy to Grow Bulbs (Easytogrowbulbs.com): What unusual ideas you can find here. The pure-white Chionodoxa, or glory of the snow, with six early starlike petals, can be naturalized in your lawn. So can the nodding white bell forms of Leucojum, or summer snowflake, which bear petals tipped with a small green dot on each.
Don't miss the weird-and-wonderful section, either. Last year, I ordered some exotic amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus from this company, to force into bloom. They were enormous and healthy, as were the unusual flowers. The company's paperwhite forcing video is clear and simple to follow.
■ Old House Gardens (Oldhousegardens.com). Want to know the history of the special daffodils, tulips and other bulbs you're ordering? Here is the place to look. In addition to cultivation and plant specifics, you'll find the year that each was first recorded, stories from catalogues and experts in the field, and charming descriptions. Don't miss the Argent double daffodil, or the tiny starburst of Rip Van Winkle. Dreamscape, described as "a platinum blond pheasant's eye narcissus," is my favorite. Daffodils are squirrel- and deer-resistant, and they tend to do well in Central Kentucky gardens.
■ Brent & Becky's Bulbs (Brentandbeckysbulbs.com). Scroll through this online catalogue, and you'll gain a wealth of information about how tulip and daffodil divisions are classified, and an amazing showcase of color blossom portraits will help you see which is which. Generations of the Heath family on this Tidewater, Va., farm have raised bulbs in collaboration with European growers. The purity of white star ipheion (also called star flower), alternating with its blue counterpart, Jessie, would be a great color mix along a border, especially if you're a blue and white fan. For bling, add some little beauty tulips.
Orchids among us
If you think that orchids are exotic beauties that will grow only in the tropics or in greenhouses maintained by expert gardeners, you're in for a surprise.
Two events will enrich your awareness.
■ Noted Kentucky author and photographer Tom Barnes, an extension wildlife specialist and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's forestry department, will present Native Orchids of Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. Sept.7 at the meeting of the Blue Grass Orchid Society. The event is free. It will be at KET, 600 Cooper Drive.
■ Simple orchid care will be taught at a Gardener's Toolbox program led by master gardener and "orchid nut" Susan Umberger at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service, 1140 Red Mile Place. Call (859) 257-5582 to register in advance. The cost is $15.
Early fall is the perfect time to think about lawn maintenance. You can pick up some quick but cogent pointers in the online primer Low-Maintenance Lawn Care, Stressing Pest Avoidance and Organic Inputs (ID-154) at UKY.edu/Ag/ukturf/HomeLawnCare.htm. Other publications written by UK experts for this Cooperative Extension site provide more in-depth coverage of specific issues. Answers to questions about the best variety of grass to plant, how to handle a white grub infestation, and the best time of year to fertilize your lawn might surprise you.
By the book
Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays With 350 Easy-Care Plants. Debra Lee Baldwin. Timber Press. 248 pp. $29.95.
Succulents are popping up in unexpected places with a frequency that hints at their growing popularity. Just last week, I discovered a native flame flower for my rock garden. It has pencil-thin, fleshy finger-shaped leaves and sprays of delicate magenta flowers that open only in late afternoon. It seemed tame when contrasted with the four-foot tall Jaws agave, edged with sharp spine-teeth, that I recently spotted guarding Gainesway Farm's arboretum.
Succulents make great container plants. Many are cold-sensitive, needing to overwinter indoors. Their unusual colors and forms are inviting as both architectural and design elements, especially when combined with just the right decorative vessels.
In Succulent Container Gardens, Baldwin has assembled a multitude of inspirations: pebble-lined terra cotta pots, an old bathtub collage, tucked into whimsical flea-market finds like flour sifters and toy trucks, anchored to various forms, and even planted as rock-stairway risers. Baldwin's easy instructions and clear text, along with hundreds of color photographs, will nudge you beyond hens-and-chicks, and past the sharp-tipped mother-in-law's-tongue sansevieria (sorry, Mom), to finding some fantastic, out-of-this-world succulents. Go to Debraleebaldwin.com.