I had not been a fan of the most common form of Lachenalia aloides. It lacks refinement and reminds me of cheap, fake flowers. But when I relocated surplus bulbs out to an open area near our entrance, I changed my mind. They are a bright splash of colour around an old tree trunk which makes me smile. The addition of the undervalued muscari (grape hyacinths) that remind me of my childhood adds a splash of pure blue, making the colour seem even brighter, along with an early flowering scilla. We have a particularly strong growing form in New Zealand which you can still occasionally find under its completely incorrect name of Lachenalia ‘Pearsonii’. It is just a strong-growing, tall strain of aloides with its distinctive orange and red colouring.
L. aloides is a variable species and one of our early bloomers is another form – L. aloides quadricolor. It has a little more subtlety than its more vibrant, stronger sibling. The individual flowers are little smaller and finer, although still on a strong stem. Quadricolour refers to the four colours – red, yellow, green and interesting maroon or burgundy tips. There is a complexity to these flowers which counters the somewhat garish effect that can be evident in the more common form.
L. aloides tricolor flowers later for us and is smaller in size and basically green with red tips. The most desirable of this set is probably L. aloides var. vanzyliae but it is the one we are struggling to get growing well. I will keep an eye out for flowers as the season progresses because it is an unusual white with pale blue at the base and bright green tips and it is just as lovely as it sounds. When I find it again – and I have it in about three places – I will lift the bulbs because I think this one will be best kept to a pot.
The yellow is Mark’s L. reflexa hybrid. Because we struggle with the dreaded narcissi fly, he was casting round for alternative yellows to daffodils for naturalising. While not quite a pure yellow (the tips can have a red tinge), it is a strong and reliable grower and gives the yellow carpet effect though we have yet to get a major drift established in grass conditions.
Lachenalias are South African bulbs, mostly from the Cape Province. Some are very easy to grow, others less so. Naturally the very choice varieties are the ones that are less amenable but that is always the way. Some are desert plants and we struggle with those, but the ones that grow in areas of winter rainfall are generally easy and reliable in our conditions. A few, like L. glaucina, are particularly frost tender. Lachenalias last very well as a cut flower and will out-bloom most other late winter and spring bulbs in the garden. L. bulbifera is already in bloom by the beginning of July while the white L. contaminata flowers through November. A family of easy-care bulbs which gives us a full five months of blooming across the colour spectrum – what is not to like?