Wednesday, March 16, 2011


                    The editor of Carolina Gardener magazine, like all periodical editors, lives in multiple time dimensions. I sent her copy for an April-issue article a week after Christmas, and for a June piece the end of February. She’s editing the May issue while putting April to bed, and simultaneously compiling the calendar of articles to assign for 2012. She says her kindergartener keeps her sort of cognizant of what day it is today: they ceremoniously turn the page of the little girl’s calendar the first of every month.
            In my business, dates don’t matter so much. I consider myself well-grounded if I know whether today is a Tuesday or a Friday, and, if asked, frequently have to stop to think before answering. This happens often, because Tim is more date-challenged than I am. (A case in point: we got married on St. Patrick’s Day—a Thursday—in 1998: T insisted on St. Pat’s so Hallmark would remind him of our subsequent anniversaries. Reverend Ken expressed some concern, as the day fell during Lent, when big celebrations can appear unseemly. “How many people are you planning to ask?” he queried. We retired to a huddle, then announced, “Including you? Five.” Problem solved. I never subscribed to the myth of the big white wedding. Over the years, anecdotal evidence I’ve accumulated indicates that the bigger the wedding, the shorter the marriage.)

Anemone blanda,
not a summer-blooming bulb
(see note at end of post)

            Where was I? I’m sure there was a point I meant to make when I started.

            Oh, yes: thinking ahead. When it comes to the garden, this time of year is when you plan for your summer show. That show should include oodles of summer-blooming bulbs.

            Summer-blooming bulbs? you echo. That means lilies, right?

            The category includes lilies, but goes ’way beyond those lovely, fragrant, colorful deer favorites. After studying Brent and Becky’s “Summer-Flowering Bulbs Catalogue 2011,” I picked nine lesser-known and generally pest-resistant genera to bring to your attention. All have performed solidly in my cold-hardiness zone 7-8-9 garden. In alphabetical order, they are:

1.      Crinum species and hybrids. This tough Southern standard is one of those plants found blooming around abandoned homesteads. Clusters of long-lasting, lily-like blossoms in shades of pink and white on 18-24” high stems perfume the air over arching, bright green strappy foliage. All this and deer resistance too makes Crinum a gotta-have. They resent being moved, so put them where you want them the first time.

Scadoxis multiflorus,
summer-blooming bulb # 8

2.      Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora, better known in some circles as montbretia. Twelve-to-24-inch spikes of hot-colored tubular flowers with sword-like foliage add pest-resistant vertical accents to mid- to late summer gardens. I wouldn’t be without gladiolus-like (only better because they don’t need staking) beauties in my orange garden. Smoldering scarlet ‘Lucifer’ and orange-peel-orange ‘Embers’ glow in my back border during July and August.   

3.      Gladiolus species. It seems you either like glads or you don’t. You either have the space to grow them, or you don’t. You either don’t mind staking them, or you do. As a notorious non-staker, I give the usual hybrids a pass, but have tried a few of the species, like heirloom (introduced in 1896) G. callicanthus var. murielae (also known as Acidanthera). They proved an interesting experiment, producing pretty, if smallish, white-and-purple flowers the first year then nothing but foliage in subsequent seasons. Just when I had decided living without glads wasn't so awful (Tim considers them funeral flowers anyway),  I popped ten G. ‘Flevo Junior’ in as a last-ditch effort. Boy, oh, boy!  Beautiful, long-lasting spikes of dark red flowers began in mid-June and kept going for almost a month. They did require staking, but I blamed the straight-species Liatris spicata that leaned against them. Inspired by this happy circumstance, I put ten G. nanus in a client’s pink garden that bloomed just as spectacularly, no staking required. I’ve gone off going off on glads.

4.      The glorious Gloriosa superba. These finger-like tubers produce scandent (hort-speak for lax”) stems that require support. Cultivar ‘Rothschildiana’ blooms with eye-catching yellow-and-red flowers with recurved petals starting in July. In my garden, they continue to multiply in their mostly shady spot. The straight species has orange flowers: I added a dozen or so of them to my sunny orange garden, where they twine themselves into the eleagnus hedge behind them for a special late-summer show.

Narcissus 'Katie Heath,'
not a summer-blooming bulb
(see note at end of post)

5.      Hymenocallis festalis, a.k.a. spider lily or ismene, along with hybrid ‘Advance, are most common in the trade. Night-blooming, white, fragrant, lily-esque flowers resemble daffodils from Bizarro World, very striking. The strappy foliage is a glossy dark green and forms impressive clumps. In Garden Bulbs for the South, Scott Ogden mentions 40 species in just 13 pages, which is pretty impressive, too. (See Good Reads, in the sidebar.)

6.      Lilium species. I love lilies. One or another is in bloom from late spring to summer, depending on species and cultivar. I’ve planted Formosas (L. formosanum), Orientals, Asiatics, Trumpets, Orienpets (all hybrids, differing in bloom times and orientation of the flower), Turk’s-caps (L. martagon), Easter (L. longiflorum), regal (L. regale), tiny-flowered, chandelier-like species L. pumilum, and tangerine-orange, long-lived L. henryi. Many have wonderful fragrance, especially the Oriental hybrids. If you can keep the deer off them, you can’t go too wrong planting lilies.

Lycoris radiata,
One of two correctly placed
summer-blooming bulb photos
in this post
7.      Lycoris radiata, sprengeri and squamigera, also called spider lily, hurricane lily and naked ladies, respectively. It took a while for Lycoris to establish in my garden, probably because I kept moving them around the first few years. Now they’ve beaten me at my own game and the red trumpets of L. radiata pop up charmingly in unexpected places all over the garden in late summer to early fall, which is fine with me. Reclusive Brunswick County plant guru Frank Galloway tells me they often take two or three seasons to settle in before blooming even if you don’t yank them out of the ground every ten minutes. Just so you’ll know, the flowers appear at their appointed time as if by magic on leafless stalks; the grass-like foliage produced in winter to early spring has disappeared long since. While I’ve never planted that pink-flowering Southern standard L. squamigera, Frank gave me an L. sprengeri (a.k.a. tie-dye lily) to trial. And now I have a new favorite Lycoris.

8.      Scadoxis multiflorus, or blood lily. This one, another of those other-worldly-looking flowers I gravitate toward, you have to see to believe! Four-to-six-inch-wide spiky red spheres bloom in early summer, and are monster cool. The bright-green, lance-shaped foliage emerges after flowering finishes. The ones we planted on a client’s roadside bank have stopped traffic. Fortunately, it's not a very busy street.

Sprekelia formosissima,
the other correctly placed
summer-blooming bulb
in this post

9.      Sprekelia formosissima, the elegant Aztec lily. Really red, really big (to 5”) orchid-like flowers bloom in June atop foliage that persists all summer as a broadly bladed grassy clump after the flowers fade. A deer-resistant Mexican native.

It has occurred to me that most of the above selections bear a family resemblance to Lilium lilies, but that’s not a bad thing. Another thing they have in common is that they all need to be planted now for bloom this summer. (Lycoris maybe not until next year. For blooming, I mean, not planting.) So go to Brent and Becky’s website (link above) sooner rather than later for the best selection.

Not surprisingly, Tim fixed the “Most Recent Post” problem detailed in “Taking Time.” Turns out it was a Feed-Burner problem. He just chewed over it for days until he cut the Gordian knot. Everything is as it should be now. In case you were worried.

Thanks for dropping by.


 P.S.--A note about the pictures: apparently I'm not as assiduous as I might be about photographing the non-red summer bulbs in my yard when they're flowering, so I included three snaps of what's blooming today instead.

Tulipa sylvestris and Muscari aucheri,
not summer-blooming bulbs,
but a lovely vignette nonetheless,
photographed this afternoon in Fitzgeralds' garden

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