Tag Archives: tigridia pavonia

Meanwhile, in a New Zealand summer

In a world beset by problems, a little ray of delight can change a day. In a segment entitled ‘Meanwhile in New Zealand’, I give you this from the southern city of Dunedin:

Whether this is the same sea lion who then chased the swimmers out of the surf at St Kilda Beach the following day, I do not know. It seems a little ungrateful if that is the case. St Kilda is a big beach. John Wilson Ocean Drive is a long drive. She seems to be claiming an awful lot of territory as hers.

Yellow tigridias in the summer borders but everyone has red freckles

I have been looking at the tigridias this week. Tigridia pavonia or jockey caps in the vernacular. These are Mexican in origin, day flowers – as in each bloom only lasts part of a day but each bulb sets a flower spike with multiple buds that open in succession. They make a good wildflower or can be mixed in with other plants in a border but overall they are not a plant of great refinement.

We were given a collection some years ago and I spent some time separating them out into different colours to use in different contexts, as well as sorting out the more common spotted ones (freckled, we call them) from the ones without. The scarlet red and the yellow ones were put into the summer borders. The pinks and whites I used in separate blocks in the lily border, going from white no freckles through pale pink to deep pink with freckles at the far end.

The usual form has the freckles in the lower row.

Tigridias seem to cross readily so there is a whole range of orange tones I have seen in another garden and apparently they come in purple which I haven’t seen and surprises me because they need a blue gene to get to that shade.

My yellow ones and red ones have never thrown a freckle-free bloom that I have seen and I was thinking about this in my garden thinking time*. My theory was that if I was really intent on trying to get a freckle-free result, crossing the pure white onto the yellow should work. Ditto, crossing the deepest pink freckle-free bloom with the pure red one. The seedlings would be variable, but a few at least should, theoretically, come out in a pure colour with no freckles.

Would crossing the deep pink/no freckles with the freckled red and the freckle-free white onto the yellow likely lead to seedlings in red and yellow without the spots, I asked Mark

Fortunately, I have a resident plant breeder to hand and he confirmed my theory with the proviso that it depended on whether the freckle-free white sets viable pollen. Sometimes mutations can be sterile – genetic blind alleys.

I prefer the purity of the blooms with no freckles. Mark does not. He has never understood why his late camellia-breeder Uncle Les Jury spent time trying to breed out the freckles. He told me the story of when he was a small child and a tigridia flowered in the rockery in front of the house. His memory is still so vivid that he gave me the exact location of it in the rockery and he still recalls looking into the bloom and being fascinated by the spots. He has a childhood attachment to freckled tigridias and who am I to argue with that? He has shown zero interest in doing the crosses for me to get freckle-free yellow and red ones.

My favourite tigridia at this time

I know the process of doing it but I lack the will to do the cross, mark the blooms that have been hand-pollinated, watch for the seed to form and ripen, gather the seed and sow it and then look after the seedlings for the two years they take to reach flowering size before I see if any of the potentially scores or even hundreds of seedlings look as if they have pure colour and nary a spotty freckle in sight. It takes effort, skill and a whole lot of patience to do controlled plant crosses. I have other priorities for my time so I shall be content with keeping an eye on my existing yellows and reds to see if they do it for me. It seems unlikely at this stage but I can live with this passing disappointment.

*Apropos gardeners’ thinking time, all the feedback on last week’s post indicated that none of us are intent on using that time to come up with theories of great importance or indeed to plan great contributions to the culture of civilisation. It is the immediacy of the task in hand that occupies us and the very act of being able to focus on that task is what soothes us and centres us in our own patches in nature.  

Summer flowers – tigridias and crocosmias

I started by thinking I would do a comparison of tigridias. And then crocosmias. It was too hot to be out in the garden and I couldn’t go down to the shaded areas of the stream in the park to clear weeds on the banks and free up the water from some of the choking weeds on account of having stuffed my dodgy wrist doing this heavy work the day before.

But really, it is that I like making flower boards. If I had my life again, maybe I would consider textile design as a career. I could do lovely floral confections, taking inspiration from flowers from my garden.

I have spent some time separating the tigridias by colour into separate blocks in two different garden borders. There are many more colours out there but I am not so keen as to want to collect them all. A fair number of them seem to be leaning towards brown hues. This is probably what happens when the pinks cross with the yellows. I am okay with white, all the hues of palest pink through to deepest pink, pure red and bright yellow.

What I would like is forms of the yellow and the red without spots – or freckles as they are often called. It appears that the dominant freckled forms can throw the occasional seedling that lacks them entirely. I have separated off the pure white and mid to dark pinks that hatched sans freckles and last year I found a single bulb with palest pink, freckle-free status. It hasn’t yet flowered this year so I couldn’t include it and, to be honest, it is a bit insipid. But it adds a link to the chain. Over time, I would prefer to mass the freckle-free ones and just add some spotties for variation. I do not know why we have never had a red or a yellow without the spots, but I will continue to watch.

Commonly referred to as montbretia, the weedy crocosmia growing wild all round North Taranaki roadsides

And crocosmias. They turned out to be more interesting than I thought, though we only have four different ones. Crocosmia are better known as montbretia when they are a roadside weed. Or maybe now a wildflower rather than a weed. A weed suggests they can be eliminated but this east African corm has made itself so much at home now that we literally have carpets of them on the road verges around here. We try and keep it out of our park but every time we get heavy rains that cause flooding, more wash down from upstream. They are at least pretty in flower.

Left to right: the roadside weed, a selected yellow form of same, ‘Severn Sunrise’ and ‘Lucifer’

There are about nine species of crocosmia in the wild. The common roadside one is C. crocosmia x C. crocosmiiflora and it increases both from the bulb and from seed. The most common garden form is the larger-flowered, red ‘Lucifer’  which, it turns out, is a different line altogether, being  C. masoniorum × C. paniculata. I deadhead it because it sets prodigious amounts of seed and there is a limit to how many I want in the garden.

The pretty yellow form is simply a variation on the wild roadside one that Mark dug up and moved into the garden because it caught his eye. It has stayed true and also has the advantage of being either sterile or not setting much seed at all. I must take closer note this year, now that I have it well established in the new borders, and see if it is truly sterile. It is a worthwhile addition if it is.

Mark actually bought Crocosmia ‘Severn Sunrise’ from a well-known perennial nursery. All we can say is that it is either not true to the original or it performs much better in the UK, where it has been given an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. It is so disappointing here that I plan to dig it up and dump it (but not on the roadside). Its foliage is not a good colour, the flowers are small and not displayed well AND it sets seed. I could make better selections from the wild ones along our frontage. I failed to find the species description for ‘Severn Sunrise’ but I wasn’t that interested, to be honest. Some plants just don’t justify their place even if they come with impeccable pedigrees.

The transient pleasure of a colour toned flower board to finish


Summer iris

Dietes grandiflora

Dietes grandiflora

It took me a while to warm to Dietes grandiflora but now I love the pretty butterfly-like blooms that we get all summer. We have a large patch of it but as overhead shade grew, the incidence of flowers decreased year by year. It wasn’t until a big chunk of it was moved to a sunny spot – left to sit upon the ground, in fact, and never even planted – that I realised its flowering potential was much greater than we had been seeing in recent times.

Dark colocasia with dietes

Dark colocasia with dietes

Last summer, I looked at the somewhat neglected and misdirected state of the gardens around our swimming pool. Unlike most pool owners that I see, we did not locate ours in a prime garden position and turn it into a landscape feature. We knew from past experience that we would never maintain a pristine pool twelve months of the year and we did not want it in full view. Instead we found a side-line position which was still convenient and sunny but largely out of sight. In these circumstances, there is not much point in planting for year round appeal. We only want it looking good over summer. I removed all the bulbs and spring flowering material and opted for a combination of a dark-leafed ornamental taro (black colocasia) in combination with Dietes grandiflora. As I write this, it is too early to claim huge success but it is looking promising and will be easy to maintain. ***

Dietes bicolor

Dietes bicolor

There is nothing quite like becoming a staple of amenity landscapers to remove the mystique of a plant. And indeed I photographed the pale yellow Dietes bicolor in a shopping centre carpark where it grows in the harshest of conditions – windswept, foot trampled, bashed by cars, hot, dry and left to its own devices. And still it flowers for many months on end. We don’t have it in our garden, but I wouldn’t turn it away. Grown in slightly kinder conditions, I am guessing it may flower more prolifically and an annual groom of spent foliage would keep it looking tidier. It may be that D. bicolor is favoured in such plantings over its prettier relative, D. grandiflora, because it is more compact at about two thirds the height.

Cypella coelestris

Neomarica caerulea

Mark was sure the showy, tall iris that we have also planted by our swimming pool was a dietes. But no. When I went to look it up, I found there are only six different dietes. Five are from southern and eastern Africa and, oddly enough, one from Lord Howe Island. The  pool iris is very tall – stems maybe two metres high at times and generally capable of holding themselves up. I spend a bit of time on hot summer days floating around the pool on a lilo and those pretty flowers waving above me are a delight. Some detective work initially had me thinking it was a Cypella coelestris which comes from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. But it appears I was wrong, too, and it is in fact a Neomarica caerulea – the walking iris – from Central and South America.  It is pretty international, the iris family. After spending some time analysing photographs on line and looking at descriptions, it was a reader who gave me the simplest way to tell them apart. The cypella grows from a bulb and the neomarica from a rhizome. I rushed straight out to look and, sure enough, rhizomes. In my defence, they are closely related, along with the trimezia.

Each flower on the neomarica only lasts a day, but it continues to flower down the stem, a trait that can be seen in other irises and iris relatives. In our conditions, the neomarica is not fully deciduous, though it dies back to a neat clump of foliage through winter.

Tigridia pavona

Tigridia pavonia

A net search tells me that a number of American sites describe the cypella as being like a blue tigridia. We grow a fair number of Tigridia pavonia and all I can say is ‘oh really?’ To me, it is indubitably iris with its three upright blade petals and its fall of three sepals. While the tigridias are also members of the iris family, they are not as obviously iris-like. Maybe renaming them is just somebody’s idea of a marketing ploy to sell a plant which is not so well known.

Tigridias, however, share similar characteristics to both dietes and neomarica in that they are summer flowering, each bloom only lasting a day but continuing to open fresh flowers from the same stem, so easy to grow that they might be deemed to have weed potential and somewhat loose in form. Tidy gardeners may describe them as scruffy and they don’t fit so comfortably into a tightly maintained small space. But for those who like a certain summer abandon with lots of flowers, these are delightfully casual options for the summer garden.


*** Postscript

Current update on the colocasia and dietes planting is that the former is doing brilliantly and out-competing the latter entirely on height. It may take another season to see if the dietes is able to rise to the required height to get enough sun to bloom.

First published in the January issue of New Zealand Gardener 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.