Sunday, March 21, 2010

The autumn blues

I had the mortification of rolling over another year last week.  It really does seem that they steamroll through so quickly that I cannot keep up with them. 
Still, looking on the bright side, I do have my birthday at the right time of the year for a bulb-loving gardener, as most people know it is a very easy gift for me, and each year I get my share of daffodils and tulips.  Fortunately,  I manage to get a few of the more unusual types each year as well.
This year, for example, I was given a little packet of striped squills – Puschkinia scilloides.  These are dwarf-growing members of the hyacinth family, and are most closely related to the blue bells and Chionodoxa.  They are very hardy, originating in the eastern Mediterranean, and will cope with almost anything the New Zealand climate throws at them.  They are small bulbs – about the size of a Lachenalia – and should be planted in full sun to light shade, in generous clumps.  In the spring they pop up with little heads of cool blue flowers, each petal striped with a deeper band. 
In England, this charming little plant is used for naturalising, but I have not seen it used that way in New Zealand.  Perhaps it is too fragile to compete with our stronger-growing pasture.  It is best planted near the front of a flower border or in the rock garden.
The nearly-related Chionodoxa species are perhaps even more attractive, the blue tones often being clearer.  These are called ‘Glory of the Snow’ because they flower very early in the season.  They make great rock garden plants and also do very well in pots.  Like the striped squills, they will look their best when they are massed.
The best of these is C. forbesii ‘Blue Giant’.  It has sky-blue tipped white flowers, and shines in the garden.
Like the striped squill, this is an easily grown plant that will grow happily in a sunny position with humus enriched soil.  It will cheefully set seed as well, which can be sown in seed trays and will germinate over winter.  It is easy to quickly raise large numbers of bulbs this way.
These little plants are closely related to Scillas, a genus that seems to be always undergoing revision, with species joining and leaving at a remarkable rate.
Perhaps the best of these is the striking C. peruviana, the so-called Peruvian blue bell, although it comes from the Mediterranean, not Peru!  It is a large bulb with thick waxy leaves.  The flower heads first appear as rounded heads of stars but as they elongate the flowers open to violet-blue.  The flower heads will eventually become 40 cm long. 
There are a number of different coloured forms, ranging from the usual violet-blue through lighter blues to almost white. They are very hardy plants, flourishing in quite neglected areas while still flowering year after year.


BernieH said...

They are really lovely! Belated birthday wishes as well.

Unknown said...

Thanks Bernie - I planted out the bulbs, plus some daffodils this afternoon - and some Primula malacoides and some pansies - great fun.

Susan said...

Oh happy day, another plant blog! :)

Just gazing at your blog, such wonderful information and pictures.