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SHARING SECRETS: Bulbs That Surprise and Delight

Narcissus papyraceus

Edited by Dayle Cheever* and Lisa Marun.

I have a collection of reoccurring bulbs in my yard. They always surprise and delight me. Do you have any bulbs that have been proven winners and where have you had success in purchasing them?

Marilyn Wilson: I love bulbs! You get more flowers each year at no additional cost. My favorite bulb that spreads is Chinese ground orchid, Bletilla striata. You can buy it from various growers on the internet (even Walmart!). I got mine as a gift years ago and when I moved (twice), I just dug up part of them and took them along. Purplish-pink with one-inch blooms in March and April; needs some shade.

Kay Spafford: My favorite is miniature daffodils that I bought years ago at Walter Andersen Nursery. They’re always cheerful!

Lili Walsh: I ordered my gift amaryllis from John Scheepers. They were excellent, large, and healthy, and are now in their second blooming period. They have many colors and varieties.

Catherine Tylka: I must have accidentally thrown out some potting soil with freesia bulbs mixed in. They sit by a barrel cactus and come up every spring.

Tynan Wyatt: Besides my exuberant freesia bulbs, I’ve had surprising success with Sinningia tubiflora. I am also growing from seed the bulbiferous plant Pancratium maritimum, which seems to be doing well and may bloom for me this year. Seed germination was high and it excels with our winter rain/summer drought regime. All are very fragrant plants—an added bonus!

Susi Torre-Bueno: Bulbs (and corms, their garden cousins) are one of Mother Nature's greatest gifts to gardeners because so many of them thrive with almost total neglect. Just about all the bulbs I have are dormant at some point. If you have bulbs that lose their foliage during the year, be sure you know where they are hibernating so you don't accidentally dig them up! Here are a few of my garden favorites:

Amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies) - Very reliable summer bloomer; might take a few years to bloom when they are relocated.

Babiana stricta (Baboon Flower) - This summer-deciduous South African corm produces short clumps of narrow pleated foliage in late winter, followed by white, blue, or violet flowers in spring. Self-seeds and also produces many tiny bulbs.

Chlorogalum parviflorum (Small-flowered Soap Plant) - A spring-blooming San Diego County native with very pale pink flowers; it was here when we brought our property.

Cyclamen persicum (Cyclamen) - These corms, which grow to four or five inches across, can thrive in the shade for many years (I have one in a pot that is ten years old and blooms on and off most of the year). The distinctive flowers come in sparkling white and shades of pink to red and violet. The white one is nicely scented, too.

Crinum spp. and cvs. - These summer bloomers have very large flowers (mine are shades of pink) and large strap-shaped foliage beloved of snails.

Cyrtanthus spp. and cvs.- South African bulbs in various shades of orange like a little shade and some have foliage all year.

Drimiopsis maculata (Little White Soldiers) - The low-growing, brown-spotted green leaves do well in dry shade, and the small white flowers appear in spring.

Freesia cv. (Freesia) - The sweet scent of tubular freesia flowers can perfume your garden in spring. Available in many colors (but not blue), they can do well in pots for many years.

Freesia laxa (formerly Anomatheca laxa) - Very small South African bulb that spreads by seeds or bulb offsets; can be a pest if not removed where unwanted. My spring-blooming variety has white flowers with a small red spot.

Iris cvs. - Some irises are bulbs, while others produce thick rhizomes. The ones that do best for me are re-blooming bearded irises. Some can bloom four to six times from spring through fall, thriving on near neglect in full sun with little water and producing up to five-inch wide flowers. Dutch iris also do well here, but the !@#$%*$ squirrels and/or rabbits in my garden have eaten most of the hundreds of bulbs I planted over the years. All Iris species make showy cut flowers.

Gladiolus spp. - I grow a number of Gladiolus species, and they return reliably and are summer-dormant. G. tristis has flowers with a lovely scent at night, but it seeds readily and can be a pest.

Narcissus papyraceus (Paperwhites) - My mother-in-law, Evey Torre-Bueno, buys five or ten each fall and grows them indoors; they are planted in the garden after blooming, and reliably return every year.

Veltheimia bracteata (Forest Lily) - Another South African favorite, with spires of downward-facing rose-pink blooms in spring, this appreciates some shade.

Watsonia spp. and cvs. - This summer-dormant South African corm (best in full sun) produces two- to four-foot clumps of sword-shaped leaves in winter, followed by gladiolus-like stalks of flowers; mine are in shades of pink, plus white.

Zephyranthes candida (White Rain Lily) - This small bulb with grassy foliage hails from Argentina, and has two-inch wide white crocus-like flowers during the summer and slowly forms nice colonies.

Suzy McGillvray: Six years ago, I got a pot of freesias, then I stuffed them in the ground…the surprise is they came back, multiplied, and continue to delight me every year! Swell plants that give off long green ‘sleeves’ for a month or two, then blossom for many weeks. I now put a few more newbies in each year… just a few.

Dayle Cheever: I have a number of reliable surprise guests in my garden each year. I have a patio garden with freesias that reliably come back each spring. Yellow, cream, and red are the colors with yellow being the most prevalent. I am also trying ranunculus bulbs again. I have very sandy soil and they don’t always get enough moisture to survive season to season, but I am hopeful. I also have a small group of paperwhites and daffodils that were planted in the yard after they finished blooming indoors. They have returned for several years and make a nice show in early spring. I am a survival of the fittest gardener, so if they make an annual appearance with little to no care, I am pleased.

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