About 15 years ago, a friend gave me an offshoot from her magnificent clump of Hippeastrum papilio, which were in full bloom at the time: huge white trumpet flowers strongly marked with burgundy and a little lime. From that single tiny bulb, I now have a massive clump of my own, which has been divided a number of times, and I have passed on many bulbs to friends. My clump blooms in September, maybe because my garden is in a cold hollow; other people already have theirs in glorious flower now.
Hippeastrum (ht 60cm) - hailing from South America - have been much hybridised and they come in many colours, including reds, apricot, pinks and white, often with contrasting stripes and edgings; some have a double form. They can be grown in the ground (not planted too deep, with a bit of the neck above the ground) in decent, well-drained soil in full sun. They can also be grown in pots. Hippeastrum belong to the Amaryllidaceae family, which consists of bulbs and rhizomatous perennials, many of which originate in warm places in the world, and on the whole they do very well in Sydney gardens. In late winter and early spring, there are a number of them decorating our gardens.
Another member of the family is South African Scadoxus puniceus (ht 45cm), which is breathtaking at the moment. A stout spotted stem arises amidst upright fleshy leaves in early August with a large, tight red bud: in late August this opens to reveal an amazing bloom like an enormous orange paintbrush, surrounded by outer red bracts. The mass of stamens reminds me of one of those filament lamps from the 1970s, as each stamen is tipped in luminous orange. The flower lasts for ages and even in decline it is attractive - large red berries eventually form, which can be used to propagate the bulb. It has a few common names, including the paintbrush lily or snake lily. This bulb doesn't mind being grown in part-shaded sites and mixes very well with some of the other brightly coloured flowers of late winter and early spring, such as Justicia rizzinii and the bromeliad Aechmea caudata.
Scadoxus puniceus also looks great with the bold orange funnel-shaped flowers of Clivia, an evergreen rhizomatous perennial that is also a member of the Amaryllidaceae family and does extremely well in shaded garden spots in Sydney gardens. The classic species is Clivia miniata; these days there are other flower colours than orange, such as cream, peach and even lime! Clivia x cyrtanthiflora has pendulous orange flowers. Clivia forms dense clumps over time, and the dark green, strappy leaves are attractive when the plant is not in flower.
Another bulbous, South African Amaryllidaceae member is Tulbaghia simmleri (ht 45 to 60 cm; syn. Tulbaghia fragrans), a relative of the familiar 'society garlic' (Tulbaghia violacea) that many of us grow in our gardens. Tulbaghia simmleri has a long blooming season from May to September, with larger star-shaped flowers, though of the same pretty lilac colour as society garlic, and these are clove scented. There is also a white-flowered version, as pictured above. This bulb will grow in sun or part-shade.
The petite spring starflower (Tristagma uniflorum, previously called Ipheion uniflorum) is also currently classified in the Amaryllidaceae family of plants and comes from Argentina and Uruguay. Arising from grassy clumps of foliage (ht 15-20 cm) in late winter and early spring, the flowers face upwards and are shaped like simple stars. Usually seen in a shade of pale blue, there are also white, purplish and stronger blue-coloured cultivars. They grow in sun or part-shade.
Sometimes called the Ifafa lily, another cute little Amaryllidaceae bulb about to bloom is Cyrtanthus mackenii, from South Africa. The curved, trumpet-shaped flowers appear in clusters at the top of 20-30 cm stems. The most often seen sort has ivory blooms; the variety cooperi has creamy-yellow flowers; another has reddish-orange blooms, as pictured. Cyrtanthus do best in a sunny, well-drained position with humus-rich soil, with their necks at or just above ground level.
In cooler areas, daffodils - which also belong to the Amaryllidaceae family are in bloom; jonquils, which do well in Sydney, tend to come out in winter here, along with snowflakes, also an Amarylliadaceae bulb; they are more or less finished now. As noted in last week's blog, daffodils can be treated as an annual bulb in Sydney for cheerful colour, though some lucky people have found they may reflower the next year.
These bulbs and perennials can all add interest to the late winter/early spring garden in Sydney!
Blog originally posted 30 August 2009; updated 29 August 2022.
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