Tender Bulbs from the Tropics

The plants known as summer bulbs are like spring bulbs in that they use a wide assortment of true bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers for energy storage. But unlike spring bulbs, they are not frost hardy. Gardeners in temperate zones must plant them each spring and — if they don’t want to keep buying new ones — must also dig them up in fall and store them over the winter.

Glorious bed of gladioli

Although this didn’t bother the Victorians, who were big summer-bulb fans, over time these tender beauties gradually fell out of fashion. Fortunately, fashion is ever changing, and summer bulbs are again a hot item, with new introductions constantly entering the market.

The big four — which never really went away — are cannas, dahlias, gladiolus, and tuberous begonias, but they are just the start of a list that also includes acidanthera, sometimes called the peacock orchid (Gladiolus callianthus), which has tubular white flowers with a deep purple throat; the Mexican shell flower or tiger flower

Agapanthus

(Tigridia pavonia), whose iris-shaped, spotted flowers come in many

bright hues; the Peruvian daffodil or ismene (Hymenocallis narcissiflora), which has fragrant white or yellow daffodil-like blooms; and agapanthus, which has lush clusters of narrow leaves and starry clumps of blue or white flowers.

Want more? How about the bright yellow, orange, and orange-red wands of Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora and its several close relatives; the tall, fragrant, white-flowered Galtonia candicans, sometimes called summer hyacinth; and perhaps most fragrant of all, the tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa).

All these and more are easy to plant, easy to love, and readily available, but to be sure of the widest selection, consult specialty catalogs as well as your local garden center.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

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