Saturday, April 9, 2011

Three Bulb Champs

One of the things you have to accept about growing bulbs is that your reward, like the saint's, will be delayed. You purchase them as something that more closely resembles a desiccated puck, or something the dog left behind. You then plant this tidy packet in fall and watch while almost nothing happens for a couple of months. This is a gardening leap of faith, not unlike planting from seed, but the rewards are rolling in right now. The bulb blooming time is in full glory, and the rewards of those long ago plantings are stupendous and three of my particular favorites are showing off mightily.

Aril bred iris are a complex group of hybrids that long ago won my heart with their astounding upright blooms in exotic blends of purple, brown, chartreuse and gold. I have never been particularly successful with the lovely bearded iris, my yard is too dry, I am too lazy, and they just don’t care much for the place. But these arilbreds love it here. Arilbreds demand a long, hot, dry summer - no trouble providing that. They thrive in most soils, including the rocky, barely amended slope, on which I have them planted. What could be easier? To top it off, even during their winter and spring growth spurt they do not have excessive water demands.
Walker Ross

I got my first arilbred years ago at an Iris Society sale and promptly lost the tag. I still don’t know its name, but it has never failed me and has gently increased over the years. Last fall I went over to Ardy Kary’s wonderful yard and bought six more varieties. All are thriving, but‘Walker Ross’ has already bloomed making me happy, happy, happy.

The Freesia laxa has just begun to open its spray of sweet, white flowers. I grew this plant for sale at the DBG and was so fond of it I convinced a bulb loving friend to take some for his place. Then he regrettably died and I inherited or adopted a lot of his plants, one of which was a small cycad. Years pass, and I finally got around to planting the cycad up at the back porch and the very next spring, a shield of bright green leaves leapt up among its fronds. I had no idea what it was or where it came from - a common occurrence here - so I waited for results. Once it flowered, I was pleased to see my old pal the Freesia was back. That plant had waited either as seed or a bulb for a long time for good growing conditions and now each spring it jumps up to remind me of my long gone friend and the admirable habit of gardeners to give things to their friends.

Homeria is a genus of bulbs from South Africa and ours came from a set Gary found at Home Depot years ago. There are two color forms, yellow and orange. We first planted them near the stairs where the Arilbreds now live. As they increased we moved them around the place and now there are three sets; yellow under the big mesquite, orange by the bauhinias, and the original group. I think of them as cheerful, bright, open, and they continue to increase and thrive whether I pay attention or not.

And that is my greatest criteria for successful bulbs in my garden. They stay put, none of that lifting and chilling and treating; they come back year after year and bloom; and they like the conditions here without undue intervention on my part.

To get the most variety in bulbs you have to go mail order and there are dozens of excellent sources both here and abroad. To see or find out more about all kinds of iris, visit Ardy Kary’s home in Arcadia ( this month to see what you are buying, or go to the Iris Show at Baker’s on Saturday, April 16.

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