Thursday, November 29, 2018

Beyond Tulips and Daffodils

As many a gardener knows, spring blooming bulbs have begun showing up in local nurseries and garden centers. That means tulips, daffodils, Iris and crocus, among other spring blooming treats. Although there are summer blooming bulbs, most notably lilies and dahlias, for many a gardener spring is the time when they think of cheerful bulbs. I'd like to offer the view that there are bulbs that start blooming in December and ones that will bloom every month thereafter until September. For simplicity's sake, call them Winter blooming, Spring blooming and Summer blooming. Here is a sampling of wonderful, less common bulbs available in each of these seasons.
WINTER. Most of the bulbs that bloom from late November through late February are of South African origin. Most notably there are the host of Lachenalias. They boast astonishing variety and even better they are one of the easiest and most reliable South African (SAF) bulbs to grow. And usually the earliest. The small tubular flowers cover almost the entire color spectrum - reds, pinks, purples, oranges, yellows and greens. Even the rarely seen blue, as with the L. viridiflora. Next up are the Ferrarias, most notably F. crispa and its hybrids or subspecies. Nicknamed spider iris, these are some of the most fantastical flowers you'll ever see, with dramatically crinkled edges. And did you know that most gladiolas are of SAF origin? The straight species glads have smaller flowers but often more intricate patterns. They bloom in the late December to April period and once happy can be quite vigorous. In fact I have a number of these that have already sent up shoots!
Likewise, did you know that the colorful and easy to grow Freesias are from S. Africa? They too have been hybridized to get a multitude of colors and bigger flowers. They're retained some of the sweet fragrance but if you ever see cream-colored freesias popping up where you planted another color, it's because those bulbs have reverted to the original species. Smell them. They're usually much more fragrant. Likewise, Ixias and Sparaxis, which I lump together with freesias as all three have a multitude of colors, bloom in late winter and early spring and naturalize effectively.
One more potential SAF late winter bloomer is Moraea. There are many species but the most famous one is M. villosa, otherwise known as Peacock moraea for its striking center eye and colors. And finally, want a bulb that also doubles as a caudiciform? Try the charming Albuca spiralis, which produces tightly curled blade-like foliage, little white flowers tipped in green and later a nice fat 'belly.'

SPRING. Besides the common tulips, daffodils, Dutch iris, crocus and hyacinth, there are other treats in spring. Various Scillas, including Scilla peruviana, offer dainty but colorful woodland flowers. Species tulips like T. chrysantha, clusiana, tarda or saxatilis make up with color and volume what they lack in height and size of flower. Plus they don't need a 'winter' and will naturalize in your garden. Ranunculus is an early spring bloomer, with exceptionally showy flowers. Another SAF bulb not as well known is Ornithogalum, better known as Star of Bethlehem. Tall or short, white, cream or green colors abound and they are vigorous. And while Dutch iris are popular, consider planting smaller species iris such as I. reticulata or I. pseudacorus. There are also many Siberian iris, as well as Japanese iris (I. ensata) for a change of pace. And though there are few CA native bulbs commercially available one that it is, Brodiaea, is well worth growing. Whether it's B. californica or one of the B. laxa hybrids, they bring spring purples into your garden and return each year.
One last mention will be another SAF entry, Babiana. Known as baboon flower because, yes, baboons in Africa do eat the flowers, they offer pleated leaves and then in spring purple, lavender, white, even pink flowers.

SUMMER. Again, while Lilies, Dahlias, Begonias and Gladiolas dominate the summer bulb garden, there are plenty of other choices. Everybody is familiar with Calla lilies but there are a host of colors available in summer and they like the sun! Also consider adding an ornamental onion or two. Two starburst varieties are treats - A. cristophii and A. schubertii. Then there are the 'globe' onions that can have densely packed heads that can span 4-6"!
And when is a lily not a lily? That would be true of the gorgeous Gloriosa lily (Gloriosa rothschildiana). Sometimes called Flame lily they offer yellow-fringed, recurved flowers in summer. Once established, it's prolific. Finally, there are Watsonias. It's another SAF import that has been hybridized and become more widely available in the U.S.

So there you have it. Enough choices to make your head explode on a cool end of November day.
Now a few photos from my garden.

The evolution of my sidewalk strip. Even in almost December, it has Gazanias, Agastache, Helenium, Monardella odoratissima, a red Mimulus and my ever blooming black Lotus in bloom. Tons of bulbs in this bed. Already up are Ipheions, Freesias, a few early Dutch iris and a few Ixia. 

Not my XMas tree but my Senecio kleinii. Unfortunately, Annie's Annuals has discontinued this species so I'm glad I got mine when I did. A fast grower for a succulent.

Eucalyptus Blue Lagoon. I know, it seems strange growing a Eucalyptus in a pot but this is a smaller shrub type. Love the color and delicate leaves. 

I thought maybe my Erica speciosa would be a spring bloomer but it's adding flowers now. Winter flowers are always appreciated. 

Beautiful red color on my Cornus florida. A word of advice about dogwoods. It can take them a few years to flower so hang in there!

Though not yet in bloom, my Aloe striata (Coral aloe) makes a striking winter foliage specimen.

Although this photo is somewhat in shade, my Echeveria gibbiflora is acquiring the red tones that it is noted for. I bought mine with red leaves, then it being in too much shade it reverted to bluish-green. But now back in sun and with temps cooling it's 'getting its red on.'

Also not in sun to really show off more of its golds, my Cistus 'McGuire's Gold' is so much happier now that I've moved it out of hot sun and into cooler filtered sun. Funny, rockroses usually like lots of sun.

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