Colorful bulbs inspire a restless Westerville gardener.
Marlene Suter has spring fever. It strikes in the depths of Ohio’s cold winters as she longs for warm sunshine, garden blooms, songbird melodies and time outdoors. So, it’s no surprise she remedies her longing by planting a bonanza of spring bulbs—tens of thousands of them—on the 1.5-acre property that she and her husband, Fred, own in Westerville. She plants with abandon each fall, eagerly awaits the blooms through winter, then celebrates their arrival in spring.
“If you love spring, you’ve got to do bulbs,” she says. “There’s nothing like bulbs to feed your soul.”
In late February, even before spring’s official arrival, Marlene’s white snowdrops emerge, often pushing through the snow-covered ground with their bright green shoots and bell-shaped flowers. The bloom parade marches on with mini purple rock irises, blue Siberian squill, lavender crocuses and February Gold daffodils. More daffodils in yellow, white and salmon speckle a hillside in March, then a rainbow of tulips and other specialty bulbs color her front walkway in April and May.
“If you stagger what you plant and plant early, mid- and late-blooming varieties, you’ll have a long bloom season,” assures Marlene, a retired leadership coach and now a Master Gardener volunteer.
Over the years, her passion for papery bulbs and their remarkable colorful blooms has multiplied. At 23, she planted her first tulips along a narrow strip of soil outside her first apartment. Later, when she and Fred moved to their current home, they cleared the property of bush honeysuckle and started filling their blank canvas. The couple planted trees, shrubs and perennials, and eventually Marlene experimented with bulbs.
She started with daffodils, which were unappealing to the deer that browsed their hillside, then tried tulips closer to the house. For the next 20 years, she planted roughly 2,000 bulbs each fall. Today, swaths of daffodils bloom along a dry creek bed at the side of the house. A colorful kaleidoscope of tulips, daffodils and spring perennials welcomes visitors at the entry to their black-and-white house. In back, an arbor bed is filled with wildflowers, tulips and daffodils plus a stone path installed by their son.
At one point, Marlene says her family put a plant moratorium in place. “No more new plants,” she says they told her during the year of her hip replacement when they stepped in to care for her garden while she healed.
The moratorium didn’t last long. Today, she continues to experiment with new varieties and combinations and carefully records their bloom time, successful color combinations and ideas for the coming year. Fred helps her get the job done by caring for the lawn, the compost pile and the bird feeders. He also shreds the leaves.
“The garden is never finished,” says Marlene. “It is constantly changing, and I love the process.”
Of course, change is never more evident than in Ohio’s unpredictable springs. Thankfully, the variety is a perfect cure for Marlene’s spring fever.
“Because the weather is so variable in Ohio, every spring is different,” she says.