Summer belles

Wednesday, 07 January 2009

Bulbs and rhizomes bring a fresh touch to what can be a jaded garden on Sydney's suffocatingly hot days.

This Hymenocallis species, possibly Hymenocallis littoralis (ht 75cm) or Hymenocallis caribaea (ht 80cm), has stout stems of large, scented, crisp white flowers: with long spidery petals around a daffodil-like cup and prominent, quivering stamens. Hymenocallis come from Central and South America and the Caribbean region, and begin to bloom at Christmastime and continue into January. The clumps of strappy evergreen leaves, rather like the foliage of Agapanthus, are attractive for the rest of the year, though sometimes succumb to a rust-like disease, in which case I just cut them all off and they regrow. Belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family of bulbs - many of which do very well in our Sydney gardens - they form thick clumps, and though mine are grown in full sun, they apparently will also do well in part shade and can also thrive in very boggy soil as well as well-drained spots. They can be grown in pots. In short, they are most adaptable plants! The sharp whiteness of the flowers contrasts well with a sultry background of purple leaves: mine are nearby Persicaria 'Red Dragon' (ht 60cm) and an unusual shrubby spurge - Euphorbia cotinifolia (ht 3m) - and for a while they nestled amongst the dark blooms of Hemerocallis 'Black Ambrosia', to striking effect. The drooping petals echo the arching leaves of grasses grown nearby, and they are particularly effective with Miscanthus 'Variegatus', which has white-striped leaves.

A more diminutive member of the same plant family which is also flowering now is Zephyranthes (ht 15-25cm), also native to Central and South America and the Caribbean. Whilst the commonly seen white-flowered 'storm lily' or 'autumn crocus', Zephyranthes candida, blooms around March, pink Zephyranthes grandiflora and pale yellow Zephyranthes primulina come out in December and early January. Their foliage is wider than the grassy leaves of the autumn-blooming form but they have the same simple crocus-like flowers and are easy to grow in any warm climate in a sunny spot, forming decent clumps in a few years. Habranthus robustus is a similar plant, with slightly more open flowers, and comes in white and pink forms. These little bulbs are best grown along sunny paths and at the front of garden beds amongst low groundcover plants that will not swamp them, or grown in pots.

From the Iridaceae family comes Neomarica caerulea, a rhizomatous plant from Brazil with tall, attractive fans of evergreen architectural foliage (ht to 1m) , which in summer has spires of the exquisite iris-like flowers, coloured the most brilliant blue. Each lasts but one day but they continue to open over several weeks. The flowers look particularly stunning when paired with nearby cerise blooms, such as those of Canna or Dahlia, or with silvery foliage such as that of Plectranthus argentatus. It thrives best in a sunny, well-drained spot with good soil. It is not to be confused with Neomarica northiana, the so-called 'walking iris', a lower-growing plant (ht 60cm) which colonises garden beds with frightening speed by sending down 'pups' which take root immediately. It has much smaller flowers, which open only in the morning, and are often never noticed! For areas of dry shade under trees, however, this plant offers a pretty good covering of green and needless to say, I do have a huge swathe of that one!

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 12 January 2009

    Hymenocallis, neomerica grow well for me. The neomerica has had flowers continuously for five weeks. Rain lilies do not do well, but habranthus perform well. Margaret

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