The flowering bulbs of mid December

img_3262“Good thing we are not drying out too much,” Mark observed wryly as we faced another day of rain. This is a variant on his usual “Good news! The drought has broken”.  While technically summer, our very wet spring continues. I entertained myself by doing a bit of a stocktake of bulbs in flower in mid-December and assembling one of my flower boards.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Cardiocrinum giganteum

December is not notable for peak bulb season. Not at all. Though if you add in corms and tubers, the census would include such things as irises and dahlias, some of which are in flower now. In the big growers, the Cardiocrinum giganteum plants are very handsome indeed and have finally naturalised themselves, gently seeding down. We respect their wishes and generally accommodate them where they grow. It is, after all, reputed to be a seven year wait to get the flowering spike and they are pretty undemanding during that time. The flower spikes are three or four metres tall with large, fragrant trumpets so it is worth the wait.

Arisaema dahaiense

Arisaema dahaiense

Arisaema candidissimum

Arisaema candidissimum

I write about the Arisaema dahaiense every year which is an indication that it has settled in well here and it keeps reappearing. The same cannot be said for all arisaema species. It is a very curious bloom indeed. Also opening its first blooms this week is the prettier A. candidissum – the summer white, often with soft pink striping.

Dactylorhiza maculata

Dactylorhiza maculata

Less well known in this country (though common enough in its homelands of northern Europe and the UK) is the ground orchid Dactylorhiza maculata, which is very charming, undemanding and flowers well until the heat of summer knocks it back.

Lilium martagon

Lilium martagon

It hasn’t been so easy to get Lilium martagon established. I think it wants a colder, drier winter and probably a drier summer than we can offer it so it has been satisfying to get it growing well in one area of the garden. January will bring us the OTT auratum lilies in abundance, but at the moment it is the pretty charm of the martagons that brings us pleasure.

And so to the smaller flowered bulbs.

img_3301From left to right, we have two albucas (more shortly), Habranthus probably andersonii,  Phaedranassa cinerea, Gesneria cardinalis, Stenomesson miniatum,  Cyanella capensis, Gladiolus papilio, Tritelia laxa may be ‘Queen Fabiola’, the trusty and undemanding rhodohypoxis and, just to confound, the first blooms on Cyclamen hederafolium – that harbinger of autumn.  Inevitably, I have since found additional bulbs in flower that I failed to add to this collection but they can remain absent from this roll call. I have written up most of those photographed over the years – hence the blue links. I gathered the cyanella seed some years ago and raised it in pots before replanting more extensively in the rockery where it is now a charming haze of blue over a long period, without threatening the wellbeing of other bulbs.

The tritelia – we used to think it was a brodiaea – is an American wildflower bulb, though named for the queen of Belgium, which is curious. We had assorted pots of it kicking around the nursery for years until I gathered them all up and tucked them in around the garden. This year, they are looking particularly pretty and are probably our dominant flowering bulb at this time.

Not A. canadensis as we and many other gardeners thought

Not A. canadensis as we and many other gardeners thought

About the albucas … help! We have always known the smaller yellow albuca as A. canadensis and it has long been Mark’s favoured example of the folly of allowing the first name bestowed upon a plant to remain in perpetuity, even when it is inaccurate and a mistake. Canadensis means it comes from Canada but it doesn’t. Albucas are another South African genus. Now it appears that it is not Albuca canadensis at all but is more likely to be A. flaccida instead. We are by no means alone in having had it under the wrong name, but we certainly perpetuated the error by selling it under that name in times gone by.

The bigger growing white with green stripes is more of a mystery. Indeed, I am sure we thought it was an ornithogalum for a while so maybe it is one of the varieties that has been transferred from that genus to the other. It could be that it is A. nelsonii but equally there are other albuca species that look similar. If anybody is able to assist us with unravelling its identification, that would be helpful. It may be a matter of knowing which albuca species we have in this country. In our conditions, it is evergreen and has a very large bulb with papery covering, generally flowering early to mid-summer.

Big picture gardening looks great in photographs and can please the eye. Bulbs more often give the small picture detail which delights the curious gardener and adds many more layers of interest.

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