By Jane Scurich
Years ago I thought of bulb planting as a fall activity coinciding with the Thanksgiving holiday. Daffodil, tulip, and hyacinth bulbs promised a colorful spring garden.
More recently I have learned that bulbs, rhizomes, corms, tubers and tuberous roots can provide year-round color in my garden by choosing a variety of spring, summer and fall bloomers. The vast array of bulb choices far exceeds the gladiolas, dahlias and lilies available in the local nursery.
Recently I have received a number of dazzling catalogues filled with summer and fall blooming bulbs, which provided me with a welcome relief to our dreary February weather. Wayside Garden’s (www.waysidegardens.com) 2007 offerings include over twenty different Hemerocallis (daylilies, as they are more commonly known) in colors ranging from palest pink to lavender and on to deep, dark black-violet. I also found Caladium bulbs offered here. Not a flowering bulb, but a magnificent foliage plant which adds summer-long color to the garden. I fondly recall my grandmother’s Kentucky garden bordered in showy Caladiums.
An alternative to shopping for these summer specialty bulbs from print material or websites is to visit the Marketplace at the upcoming San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, March 21-25 at the Cow Palace. I have been shopping the Marketplace for several years and my garden has benefited from the variety of outstanding bulbs I have purchased there.
Most of the bulb exhibitors are the actual growers. You will have an opportunity to discuss your garden and receive expert advice on optimum planting and growing conditions.
Take a few moments to meet Peter and Yolanda Wilson, Master Gardeners who own Vanveen Bulbs International in Washington State. They offer an outstanding variety of bulbs you will not easily find in other places. Visit their website at www.vanveenbulbs.com for a preview of what they will be offering at the Marketplace.
My favorite purchase from the Marketplace last year was the Ismene exotica, White Ismene (is-mean), also known as Peruvian Daffodil, or Spider Lily. This is a lovely frilly white flower which resembles a spring daffodil but graces the summer garden. It is named for Hymen, the Greek God of marriage and the son of Apollo. I am planning to add more white and some yellow Ismene to my garden from this year’s Marketplace.
Another bulb which flowers in late summer that I enjoy is Liatris, (lee-at-ris) also
known as Blazing Star. In late summer, up to 2 foot tall spikes of white or rose-purple flowers open bloom from the top down. I have been growing these for several years and have been impressed with how effortlessly they multiply and produce delightful cut flowers for summer arrangements.
For late summer or early fall blooms Amaryllis belladonna or Naked Lady is a familiar sight around our dry September landscape. Trumpet shaped, rosy pink flowers on tall stems with no leaves appear out of the most unwelcoming looking soil. Contrast the Naked Lady growth habit with another fall bloomer, Aconitum (ak-o-ni-tum) or Monkshood, which should never be allowed to dry out. Try them in a moist shaded area of the garden and you will be rewarded with deep blue, helmet shaped flowers very similar to delphiniums but with very different cultural habits.
A few of the bulbs I am planning to try this year are Eucomis (yoo-ka-mis) or pineapple lily and Tricyrtis (Trai-seer-tis) Toad Lily. The Eucomis grows best in rich soil in sun to part shade. The Tricyrtis prefers rich moist soil, never going completely dry. The blooms are purported to make excellent cut flowers resembling orchids.
An absolutely astounding variety of lilies and dahlias will be offered by purveyors from Washington and Oregon. Closer to home, Antonelli Brothers from Watsonville will be available with their begonia collection. The most difficult part of your day will be limiting yourself to the number of bulbs you can cram into your garden space!
In addition to the extraordinary bulb shopping, one of the free seminars this year is titled Heirloom Bulbs for Gardens Today: Forty Centuries of Time-Tested Beauty. Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens, www.oldhousegardens.com, will present a slide show and lecture profiling antique bulbs for four seasons. Don’t miss this fascinating history of bulbs in the garden: Friday, March 23 at 1:45 pm in the Tamalpais Room.
Scott prides himself as being a bulb preservationist. He seeks out heirloom flower bulbs and propagates them to insure these living antiques will not be lost. His collections can be viewed in gardens such as Monticello, Hearst Castle, and the Smithsonian Institution. His heirloom bulbs are available through his website.
For the avid bulb collector, his presentation is not to be missed.