Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clothed in nakedness

Regular readers of this column will now I am a great fan of autumn.  I love the cooling temperature, I relish on the sweet scents and savour the mellow fruitfulness of the decay of the growing season.  And, of course, I love the bulb season.
When we think of bulbs in March and April we naturally think of the plethora of spring flowering bulbs, corms and tubers that are now gracing the walls of our favourite garden centres.  But there are other bulbs (and corms and tubers too) that prefer to flower at this time of the year.  The remarkable thing about so many that flower at this time of the year is that they are naked – naked boys and naked ladies are both abundant, clothed in nakedness.
The naked ladies are certainly the best known of the naked flowers, and at one time all gardens would have had a stand of these reliable autumn-flowering members of the daffodil family.  
Known for years as belladonnas, (literally 'lovely lady') the botanical name for this hardy favourite is Amaryllis belladonna, and it hails originally from that land of fabulous bulbs, South Africa, from the rocky and dry soils of Western Province. As such they are ideally suited for growing in well-drained sites in New Zealand.  They flourish in poor conditions, and when well-suited will rapidly naturalise.  I think the best naked ladies I have ever seen were in the convent garden at Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the Whanganui River – surely an unlikely place to find naked ladies!
Most gardeners are familiar with the light pink forms of this robustly growing bulb, but there is actually a lot of variation among them.  I love the white forms, and have seen two quite distinct forms.  I grow a pure white, which glistens with icy whiteness, but there is also a warmer looking form with a golden throat.  Neither of these seems to be available in the trade under any specific name.
There are also a number of brighter pink forms, the best of which is possibly 'Beacon' which is almost cerise coloured.  Dr Keith Hammett, best known for his work with breeding dahlias, has also had a lick at these plants, trying to breed salmon toned forms.  He has had some success and some new varieties are in the pipeline.  A friend gave me some seed from his programme (thousands of them) and I have some seedlings in the glasshouse, but I expect it will be a few years before I see any results.


Susan said...

Love, love, love Naked Ladies! My Aunt Vi gave me some bulbs when she sold her house. They only bloomed twice in the 15 years they were in the garden. Then one day they disappeared. :(
Thank you for the picture. Reminds me of Aunt Vi's garden with her 'old-fashioned' plants.


Jennifer AKA keewee said...

I had forgotten about this lovely flower. Mum had them growing in her garden in Palmerston North. I wonder if I can find any here in the States. I will have to ask at my local nursery.

Upside Down Tomato Growing said...

Wow I love that flower but sadly I don't have luck growing them. I don't know why. I just have luck in Upside down tomato growing ;)