Tag Archives: summer bulbs

Plant Collector: Z is for habranthus

Habranthus. Not zephyranthes any longer. Apparently.

Habranthus. Not zephyranthes any longer. Apparently.

We have always called this a zephyranthes. It probably came to us as a zephyranthes and in the past it has been referred to as one of that family but it appears it is now an habranthus – H. andersonii from the description. Or rain lilies, to use the common name, for the flowering is triggered by summer rainfall. Lilies are a bit of a stretch because these habranthus belong to the Amaryllidaceae family not the Liliaceae one. Besides, they look more like summer crocus, really.

They gently seed down and are established here amongst the prostrate thyme that edges our driveway, popping up also in the cracks in the concrete. The many flowers spring up very quickly throughout summer and set seed which matures equally quickly. This is usually an indication of weed potential but we have not found them to be invasive over many years. From time to time, I thin out the seedlings and I pull off some of the seed heads as I pass. Foliage follows after flowering and is the thin, grassy persuasion.

Habranthus andersonii is native to Uruguay and Argentina and indeed all the habranthus and zephyranthes seem to originate from that area of Central America, north into Texas and the warm areas of South America. The difference between the classification of the two plants may, it appears, come down to the angle at which they hold their stamens. That is a little esoteric, even for us.

No longer first published in the Waikato Times and I do not need their permission to publish here. Replaced, I have been, by a page that tells you how to grow savory, how to go about hanging wallpaper and to go and buy your swan plants from the garden centre now. It is too late for the last suggestion. You need your swan plants well established and sizeable already if you want to get through the late summer rush of monarch caterpillars.

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The January Garden

Auratums and pink lobelia

Auratums and pink lobelia

I don’t cut many flowers to bring indoors. It feels a bit like murdering them to sever them in their prime and bring them indoors to die. We were lucky that Mark’s parents had the foresight to plan the garden so there is a different view from every house window and we have plenty of flowers in sight all year round. The lilies are different. In summer I love to bring in huge stems to scent the house. They are big. They are bold. They are beautiful. Lilies define our summers.

You need quite a lot of lilies to justify cutting the entire stem off and, after many decades, we have a few. Mark’s father Felix started breeding auratums maybe four or five decades ago and Mark has continued. This was never for commercial reasons. It was to build up plants for the garden, to extend the colour range and the season and particularly to get outward facing blooms rather than the upward facing ones which are preferred in floristry. Constantly replenishing with newly raised plants is also a safeguard against the potential ravages of lily virus. Not that we have had a problem with lily virus and disease, but if we ever do, we are prepared.

The lily we scorned at Wisley

The lily we scorned at Wisley

We noticed a floriferous new lily at the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Gardens last June. People were admiring it and but Mark took one look and said: “Gross. No good as a garden plant. Look at those upward facing blooms waiting to mark.” Not only are the upward facing blooms more vulnerable to weather damage, but the pollen falls internally and spoils it sooner. So I photographed it, but not for the same reason as the admirers. It was showy but we wouldn’t give it garden space.

Although you can to leave auratum lilies in the ground year after year, lifting and replanting deeper on a regular basis saves having to stake every stem. They work their way upwards over time. In our free draining soil, if I put them anything up to 20cm down, they are much better at holding themselves upright. The other technique to save forever staking (and then de-staking at the end of the season) is to grow them through shrubs which can act as supports. Apple trees and azaleas work well for us. When I do have to stake, I prefer to harvest my own bamboo lengths and leave the leaf axils in place to grip the flower stem. It saves tying to a smooth stake.

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)


Auratum bulbs do not respond well to drying out, even in their dormant season. This is why they are usually sold in bags of sphagnum moss or sawdust. Always try and buy them as soon as they come into garden centres in early winter and get them into the ground as soon as possible.
Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Our lily season starts with what we call the Christmas lily, or Lilium regale from China. It even Others sometimes refer to L. longiflorum as the Christmas lily. It is typically pure white and hails from Japan whereas L. regale has deep pink petal backs fading out to white. The orange tiger lilies with their reflexed petals follow soon after. They lack scent but they are a showy addition to the summer garden and very easy to grow. Next we get the aurelians – scented trumpet lilies in pretty gold and apricot shades. Most of ours have been raised from seed. They have a lovely elegance to them both in the garden and as a cut flower. You will notice their trumpets face outwards and downwards.
Aforementioned JAUS

Aforementioned JAUS

These are all but an overture to the main event – the glory of the auratums which take us through January and well into February. There is nothing subtle or understated about the flower power. Their common name is the “golden rayed lily of Japan”. How lovely is that?

???????????????????????????????First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

January bulbs for mid summer

Regular readers will know that we are very keen on bulbs here. As I surveyed the January ones, I figured that most bulbs are stars on their day. I guess because they are both seasonal and transient, they have to wow in their short time in the spotlight. A bulb in bloom can make you look in admiration, despite even the most unattractive location. We would not be without them.

The prized worsleya

The prized worsleya

Indubitably, the star this week is the unusual Empress of Brazil (Worsleya procera syn. rayneri) which does indeed hail from Brazil. It is an exotic showstopper. But the reason it is hardly ever seen is because it is rare in cultivation and requires a patient gardener. This particular specimen took 13 years from planting to bloom. There aren’t many gardeners willing to wait over a decade for a flower.

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae

The Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae are also big and showy but much easier to source, being very popular with Auckland landscapers. We have reached the point where they seed down and are naturalising themselves beneath trees where they have become a real feature in the summer shade garden. Some of those blooms are getting close to the size of human heads. We have South Africa and Zimbabwe to thank for these beauties.

Auratum lilies

Auratum lilies

In sunnier spots and on the margins, it is the lilies that astound. I wrote about the aurelians two weeks ago but it is now the time for the auratums (sometimes known as the golden-rayed lily of Japan). These can be sourced from garden centres in winter. Just make sure you never let the bulbs dry out, even when they appear dormant. If you give them lots of TLC for the first few years, you can increase numbers from the small offshoots as well as raising seed.

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba are often called climbing lilies, though they are only distant relatives at best. These are great plants for hot, dry conditions – the sort of spot many of us have under house eaves facing north. They flower for a long time in high summer and require absolutely no care at all beyond giving them something to cling to so they can climb rather than tumble.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

Gladioli! Dahlias! We often take both families for granted but summer gardens would be poorer for their absence. We don’t have many of the Dame Edna hybrid gladdies. While there is a certain charm in their exuberant vulgarity, we are less enamoured of the rust that afflicts the foliage, making them unattractive plants. This white gladiolus is not a species, as far as we know, but it is somewhat further back up the breeding chain from the modern hybrids. Dahlias I tend to lump in with perennials though technically they are tubers, so within the bulb group.

Crinum moorei

Crinum moorei

The crinums are coming into flower and C. moorei is another shade garden option though it needs to be in a position where its rather large foliage can be ignored during the times when it is scruffy. These plants stand chest height, the fragrant flowers close to nose level so there is nothing small and dainty about them.

Add in the crocosmia featured last week, the tigridias in Plant Collector today, summer flowering ornithogalum, the yellow zephyranthes (‘rain lilies’), even the early Cyclamen hederafolium coming into flower. While January is not in any way peak bulb season, those in bloom add a great deal to the summer garden.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: Tigridia pavonia

Tigridia pavonia - missing the scarlet red one we have which had no flowers open on the day

Tigridia pavonia – missing the scarlet red one we have which had no flowers open on the day

There is nothing rare, choice or difficult about these bulbs which can border on garden weeds, they are so easy. But in the right situation, they are a delight in the summer melee. Tigridias are from southern Mexico but probably on the road to naturalising anywhere hospitable. They set prodigious amounts of seed and can reach flowering size from seed in two years. Their common name is jockey caps and they belong to Iridaceae (iris) family. The flowers are relatively large – up to 15cm across – with 3 large outer petals and 3 inner small ones, but short-lived. Each bloom only lasts one day, opening in the morning and wilting away to oblivion by evening. However, each stem produces multiple blooms in succession. The pleated leaves are attractive in themselves and both flower and foliage sit around 60cm high. In case you are worried about weed potential, be reassured that they are easy to pull out if they pop up in the wrong place and you can control them by removing seed pods.

Tigridias want full sun and good drainage but also some summer rain when in growth. We find they combine well with larger growing summer plants like dahlias and lychnis in less formal areas of the garden.

Mark’s very late Uncle Les (he who bred such camellia classics as Jury’s Yellow, Anticipation and Debbie) spent some time trying to breed the freckles out of tigridias which always seemed a rather odd track to take, though the freckle-less blooms perhaps have a finer charm of some sort.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: Crocosmia “Lucifer”

Red Crocosmia 'Lucifer' with yellow anigozanthus

Red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ with yellow anigozanthus

When they are roadside weeds, these bulbs are often referred to as montbretia. Treading on thin ice, I admit that we have orange-red ones growing amongst agapanthus on our roadside. At least it is better than the dreaded bristle grass that is the scourge in our area. “Lucifer” is a superior form, a hybrid with bigger flowers and stronger colour, making it popular as a garden plant. It is strong growing and both the pleated leaves and the flower spikes can get above waist height and it is almost indestructible. I like to keep it confined but it makes an attractive display beneath the apple trees and also alongside an equally strong growing yellow anigozanthus (kangaroo paw) which we have at the front of the rockery.

The bulbs are not unlike gladiolus corms and form chains below ground. It is the ability to grow when the chains are separated that makes these both easy and verging on weedy in some situations. We have a much larger flowered golden orange form which may be “Star of the East”. I say we have it, but we are waiting to see if indeed it is still here because it has been nowhere near as vigorous as “Lucifer” and each year we worry we have lost it.

Crocosmias are a small group of South African bulbs belonging to the iridaceae family. They are winter dormant, but their one drawback as a garden plant is that it takes a long time for the foliage to die down and they can be unattractive in autumn. That said, they are such toughies that I often trim the foliage off early to tidy them up.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: blandfordia (February bells here)

Blandfordia - Australia's Christmas bells

Blandfordia – Australia’s Christmas bells

Christmas bells is the common name. Apparently in their homelands of Australia, these bulbs flower around Christmas. They are somewhat later here but the flowering lasts many weeks. It is not that there are large quantities of blooms, just that they come in succession and each trumpet lasts for a long time. These ones are on stems about 30cm high. The foliage is small, anonymous and grass-like at the base.

There are four different species of blandfordia and they have been given a family all of their own. They are hugely variable in colour and flower size, ranging from all red to all yellow, which makes identification difficult. We think this one is most likely to be Blandfordia grandiflora (so-named because it has the largest flowers) which is native to New South Wales and Queensland. There is a slight hesitation, however, between that and the Tasmanian form B. punicea. Unless an Australian botanist arrives at the right time, we may not get a definitive identification.

You don’t see blandfordias around often, or used in cut flower production, because they are slow to establish. Really slow, in fact. The references say up to 7 years to get to flowering size. In our case, maybe add another 7 before we started getting consistent flowering. Ours appears to be largely evergreen, keeping some foliage year round. Blandfordias need excellent drainage but not dry and baked in arid conditions.

blandfordia (2) - Copy

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: Crinum moorei variegated

Fragrant Crinum moorei var.

Fragrant Crinum moorei var.

Crinums are a large family, belonging to the amaryllidaceae group so having some botanical connection to the likes of belladonnas and nerines. But despite there being over 130 different crinum species, not a lot make good garden subjects in this country. Sometimes you will see different crinums being grown in the tropics but the common form in this country is C. moorei which is a South African plant. It has big strappy green leaves, largely evergreen so it can get a bit scruffy, and big, strong spikes of scented flowers in shades of pink. It is a very easy plant, tolerant of woodland shade and near total neglect.

Tall, white punctuation marks in summer along a woodland walk - Crinum moorei var

Tall, white punctuation marks in summer along a woodland walk - Crinum moorei var

This is a variegated form and rather more desirable. It is deciduous which solves the scruffy problems. When the fresh growth comes in mid spring, it lights up a dark area with its bold pale gold and green striping. By mid summer, the variegation has toned down considerably to green which gives a splendid foil for the lovely tall spires of predominantly white scented blooms. These are around 150cm high but so strong, they don’t need staking. They are a wonderful late summer accent plant for shade gardens. The bulbs can reach extremely large proportions and are relatively slow to increase. As with a number of the amaryllis family, the bulbs sit half in the ground with necks exposed. We have never seen this variegated form set seed though the usual green moorei can be grown easily from fresh seed. We have to wait for our plants to form offsets on the bulbs in order to increase them, though enthusiasts could increase them by twin scaling.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.