Tag Archives: lachenalias

The delight is in the detail

We like a detailed garden, we do. It is not just the big views that catch our eye. Often it is the little delights – tiny, even – that focus our eyes on the close-up. It is possible to have a highly detailed garden without it descending into fussy clutter.

Here we are in midwinter and the small bulbs are bursting into flower. No, this is not early; nor is it a sign of climate change. It is on cue for an area where our winters tend to be mild and lacking in extremes. Goodness knows, we complain as much as anybody about cold weather, dreary days, rain and wind but the plants tell us that it is not as bad as we think.

In the days when I used to write for the Waikato Times, we had a sheltie dog who quietly photo-bombed many a picture. Now we have Ralph channelling the spirit of the late Zephyr, except he is a boisterous photo bomber.

The swathes of snowdrops and dwarf narcissi that we have in areas of the park are only just showing first colour because it is colder on the south facing slopes but there are plenty out in the cultivated areas of garden that are noticeably warmer.

I started with the snowflakes and an obscure scilla that flowers earlier than the more common bluebells. The snowflakes – leucojums – are often taken for granted as robust survivors that are inferior to the more desirable snowdrops (galanthus). This is unfair to them because they are very different as a garden plant and under-rated, especially when we consider their extended flowering season.

I am fine with under-rating this particular scilla. Its only redeeming graces are that it is pretty to pick and it is the very first to flower. It isn’t worth garden space – far too much foliage for the number of flowers – so it has been banished to the wilder margins. We used to have a collection of species scillas – there are a lot of different species – with names like greilhuberi, hohenackeri and litardierei but I think they came to us under incorrect names even before we lost the names. I have no idea which one this is.

I added in the early flowering lachenalias to the flower lay. We still have an extensive lachenalia collection which flowers for us from now through to early November. Some are much easier to keep going in the garden than others but these early ones are toughies which will withstand competition and meadow conditions. The more collectable blue and lilac forms flower later. From left to right we have the most common, robust, cheerful but vulgar Lachenalia aloides (still sometimes to be found mislabelled as Lachenalia pearsonii),  the somewhat more refined Lachenalia aloides quadricolour (quad = four colours, in this case orange, yellow, green and burgundy), the red Lachenalia bulbifera and finally the yellow of Mark’s L.reflexa hybrid.

Sometimes I think I would have enjoyed being an illustrator or a graphic designer specialising in pretty florals but nothing can compare with the ephemeral charm of living flowers.

In a world where the news just seems to get more complicated and worse by the day, where things feel as though are spinning out of control, I find dainty flowers can be a welcome diversion. They don’t come any prettier than snowdrops, cyclamen and little narcissi. The snowdrops are a mix of Galanthus ‘S Arnott’ and G. nivalus which are our two mainstay varieties that perform in our area where we don’t get much winter chill, let alone snow. The cyclamen is C. coum which, according to Wikipedia, has the common name of ‘eastern sowbread’. I am not even going to ask who calls it that and why. While they might have wild sows in its native habitat around the Black Sea, the corms are so small and its rate of increase slow so it is unlikely that would ever make much of a food staple for browsing animals.

The narcissi are a mix of species and hybrids. My preference is for the cyclamineus types with their swept-back, reflex petals but the earliest jonquils in both yellow and white are deliciously fragrant and the bulbocodiums or hooped petticoats are also very charming.

Zach has been lifting surplus bluebells to make way for more desirable snowdrops and baby daffs in the area we refer to as the hellebore border. I suggested he could rehome some of the bluebells – thugs that they are – into the area by our gate where the giant eucalypt came down in February’s Cyclone Dovi. Over the years, I had planted a fair swag of surplus bulbs around the base of the old gum.

When he had finished, I couldn’t work out what the white patch was until I got up close. Buried bluebells, obviously from an earlier planting. Deep beneath the soil that had become displaced by the falling tree, some had leaves 30cm long and still not breaking the ground into the light.  I knew they were tough but that shows a high level of survival skills.

I have spent some time in the past working out the differences between the highly desirable, scented English bluebell and the dominant Spanish species and came to the conclusion that what we have are predominantly Spanish (Hyacinthoides hispanica), maybe with some Spanglish hybrids. They will not flower until mid spring.

We still have the worst of winter to get through but the earliest spring bulbs are a daily reminder that we are on the right side of the solstice already.

Finally, welcome to new subscribers who came this week after reading this recommendation from Julia Atkinson-Dunne. May you enjoy what you read and see.

When the detail brings delight, not the devil

Tulipa saxatilis and simple cream freesias in the rockery this week

Bulbs play a major role in our garden. We use a huge range of bulbs, many no longer available commercially. Some never were readily available. Very few of those we grow are the larger, modern hybrids which are generally what are on offer these days. We prefer the simpler style of the species or at least closer to the species.

Added to that, seventy years of intensive gardening across two generations has built up the numbers most satisfyingly. Most of our cultivated gardens have bulbs incorporated in the plantings. Or at least bulbs, corms, tubers or rhizomes to cover the range.


We have a fair few that are fleeting seasonal wonders in our climate but we just adjust our expectations. The cute erythroniums – dog’s tooth violets – are maybe a 10 day delight and can be taken out by untimely storms but that is just the way things are.

Meet Beryl. Narcissis ‘Beryl’ with cyclamen, nerines and even a Satyrium coriifolium in the bottom left corner

I don’t grow any in containers now although the same can not be said of Mark. His bulb collection is currently sitting in limbo for us all to see the scale as his inner sanctum – his Nova house – is currently being relocated. He hasn’t taken good care of them in recent times but he is determined to keep some of the rarer, touchier varieties alive. It is possible to maintain a more comprehensive bulb collection if you are willing to faff around with growing them in containers in controlled conditions. I am not so dedicated. My interest wanes if we can not grow them in garden conditions.

Gladiolus tristis popping up unexpectedly in our parking area

It is the random bulbs beyond the gardens that are currently bringing me pleasure. Some of these have been planted. Some have popped up from our nursery days. When trays of bulbs were being repotted, Mark had a strict rule that fresh potting mix was to be used (granulated bark was our chosen medium). Hygiene, he would explain. The old potting mix was spread around the place and at times it had seed or tiny bulbs within it. I am guessing this is how the Gladiolus tristis, a species gladiolus, came to be at the base of a cherry tree. I certainly don’t remember planting it there and I can’t recall it flowering before.

Ipheions at the base of an orange tree

When we plant bulbs beyond the cultivated garden areas, we try and select spots where they can establish in fairly undisturbed conditions. At the base of trees is good, as long as there is plenty of light. Around old tree stumps, on margins that don’t get mown often, or in little spots where we can walk past and be surprised to see them in bloom.

Trillium red with bluebells down in the park meadow
And trillium white with Lachenalia aloides tricolor and snowdrops to the right on the margins by a stump

We have rather too many bluebells now, to the point where I often dig out clumps to reduce overcrowding. The Spanish bluebells or the ones that are crosses between the vigorous Spanish and the more refined English species are definitely rampant, bordering on weeds. That sea of blue is very charming in their flowering season but sometimes it is the one seedling escape flowering bravely on its own that makes me smile as I pass.

The simplicity of a self-sown bluebell
Common old Lachenalia aloides where a tree stump used to be

It is both the transient nature and the detail that makes bulbs so interesting in a garden context. Far from simplifying our own garden as we age, the more we garden, the more we like to add fine detail. That is what keeps it interesting for us.

Bluebells and narcissi at the base of gum tree
Narcissus bulbocodium with bluebells

Tikorangi Notes: June 19, 2011

Spring Festival is one of the prettiest in flower this week  though spring is still a way off here

Spring Festival is one of the prettiest in flower this week though spring is still a way off here

Tikorangi Notes: Sunday June 19, 2011

Our mild autumn continues though technically we are now well into winter. It may be wet but it is not generally cold. The ski fields inland and south seem to be getting nervous (and I am wondering whether the Christmas gift of a season lift pass to our snowboarding son was badly timed for the one season in a decade when the snows will be patchy and unpredictable) but it does mean that we are enjoying great gardening conditions. Except for last Friday which was cold (calm but cloudy and cold), daytime temperatures remain in the late teens and night temperatures are not dropping much below 10 degrees Celsius.

Lachenalia bulbifera, naturalised beneath a large pine tree

Lachenalia bulbifera, naturalised beneath a large pine tree

Magnolia Vulcan is opening its first blooms on the various plants we have around the property. Mid June is early. We usually expect peak flowering later in July. A hail storm last night damaged those early buds and blooms but there are plenty more to come which will be undamaged. The early lachenalias are open – red L. bulbifera, the yellow of Mark’s L. reflexa hybrids and the common L. aloides. The first of the snowdrops are in flower. We never get snow here but Galanthus S Arnott is wonderfully successful on our climate and there are few plants as pretty as the simple snowdrops. The sasanqua camellias are passing over and the japonicas and hybrids are taking over. Spring Festival is particularly pretty this week. With petal blight already hitting before many varieties have even opened, it is probably time to be a little more meticulous in recording which varieties show less damage and still put on a good show. Petal blight is probably here to stay. It will take breeding and selection to find a way past the ravages.

Just one new post this week – our Tikorangi Diary which records Mark’s unsuccessful efforts so far to extract olive oil with a zero carbon footprint and plans for our designated Citrus Grove.

We have been discussing our citrus trees here – somewhere around 20 different specimens which are very well established (as in some are probably around 50 years old now) and I have plans for a series of posts on growing fruit trees and the aim for self sufficiency and variety and how realistic this is in our climate.

The first blooms on Magnolia Vulcan were hit by hailstones last night

The first blooms on Magnolia Vulcan were hit by hailstones last night