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Cornucopia - Unusual bulbs (Part 1)

Unusual bulbs
Ron Davies

I have been growing bulbs for some years now with fairly good results, although many are alleged to be half hardy. The following list is of many of my favourites and I would encourage you to have a go at growing them. I use the term bulb loosely as it includes corms and swollen rhizomes.

Acis autumnalis This is a charming easily grown bulb, 8" in height, ideal for a trough or raised bed. At flowering time the foliage collapses to expose erect dark stems crowned with white bell flowers. Easy to grow. A variation is A. rosea, tinted with pink. SW Europe.

Albuca shawii became well established, surviving two very cold winters. It is a delightful small bulb 10" in height, yellow flowers with green stripe on the back of petals. A. humilis is in flower here (N Cumbria) at the moment (August), 8" tall, white with green stripes tipped with yellow. S Africa.

Arisaema ciliatum Totally hardy, very pretty reddish brown striped spathe. Radiate leaves.

A. consanguineum Spathe green striped purple! 22" to 24" tall.

A. candidissimum White spathe with pink stripes and a super large trifoliate leaf. 12".

A. flavum My first success with the genus. Tiny yellow flowers, the best being subsp. tibeticum. These will soon colonise, seeding around, but they are far too nice to be a nuisance. 8" to 20".

A. jacquemontii Greenish white striped spathe which rises above the foliage.

A. tortuosum Now, this really is a bold unusual spathe, on a short stem, green in colour with an extended black spadix rising straight for the sky.

A. sikokianum Not reliably hardy but worth growing in or outside in milder areas. Very showy with a purple spathe 12" in height. I saw this growing outside at Branklin Garden (Perth) in profusion, and mentioned it to the head gardener who said "the damn thing seeds itself everywhere". I wish it would do the same here.

A. triphyllum North American equivalent version of our ‘Lords and Ladies’. Spathe varies from green to purple with a conspicuous spadix giving it the name in the US of ‘Jack in the Pulpit’. The Himalaya and North America.

Bomarea caldasii A climber from Chile with branched umbels or orange flowers. After growing this in a heated greenhouse and obtaining seed I experimented by growing this outside under the protection of Choisya ternata. It survived for three years flowering each summer. Unfortunately its protector was killed by the 2011 harsh winter. However I now have small plants of B. salsilla and am looking for a suitable shrub to plant it under. I have got some spare plants if anyone would like to have a go. South America.

Bulbinella hookeri A lovely plant from New Zealand, fleshy rhizomes rather than a bulb but worth a place in all gardens. Yellow spikes, in flower now (August). 12". New Zealand.

Calochortus luteus A bulb I thought had no chance outside. A clump of yellow tulip like flowers that has obliged for the past eight or so years, grown in gravel with no protection. California.

Cardiocrinum giganteum and var. yunnanense I grew these from seed and it took 12 or 13 years before flowering, but what a sight, massive stems up to eight feet in height with trumpet like flowers, white flushed purple. Variety yunnanense is smaller in height but with lovely dark stems. These plants are monocarpic - they die after flowering, but if you lift the old bulbs once the stem has ripened you will find smaller bulbs growing off the main bulb. Plant these and in about five years they should flower. The Himalaya.

Codonopsis clematidea I first grew this some twenty years ago from one of Chris Chadwell’s collections. It has pale blue bells on the outside, inside blue with orange and black markings similar to a passion flower. It is variable in habit from quite erect to floppy depending on regional variations.

C. bhutanica is a scrambler that has tiny charming deep blue bells. It is now flowering for the first time.

C. forrestii A climber with open beautiful clear blue flowers.

C. grey-wilsonii Similar to the above but with a purple circle in the corolla.

C. g. 'Himal Snow' Same habit with pure white flowers. Ann and Bob Armstrong are supplying me with seeds. The Himalaya.

All these bulbs have flourished for a long period of time without protection; they do best in sandy loam. And, as a backup, always collect seed and grow replacements.

Happy and successful growing!

The first part of ‘An ABC of unusual bulbs’, first published in the Cumbria Group Newsletter, Autumn / Winter 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 31.
© Copyright for this article: Ron Davies

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2013. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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