August has heralded in the first of the late winter/ early spring bulbous flowers.
Cyclamen coum (below) is a reliable little tuber with flowers all the way from cerise to white (often with crimson blotches; the pure white form is uncommon). This cyclamen started flowering a month ago, overlapping nicely with autumn-blooming C. hederifolium, the toughest, easiest and most available of the genus. (Pictured with a pretty, silver-leaf form of C. hederifolium.) Most of the genus are from the Mediterranean area and relish Melbourne's heat (in summer-shade, that is; and don't dry out the corm but keep it a tad moist in summer). I'll wait until they are dormant and plant some of these tubers between other bulbs, including C. hederifolium, in drifts.
Rod Barwick at Glenbrook Nursery in Tasmania, has been breeding Narcissus for decades. This hoop petticoat daffodil, Narcissus `Spoirot' (top), is one of Rod's; lemon, flared `petticoat' (corolla), easy to grow, flowers in winter...what's not to love? I must release it from this pot and into the garden where it could increase into a wonderful clump. Maybe somewhere between the back door and the hens, so that I can enjoy them every day.
Snowdrops (above) are very sweet, diminutive bulbs that are multiplying slowly, even in pots. (I love the (green-blotched) pure white flowers in little terracotta pots, particularly after an aged-looking patina has developed on the pot.) Galanthus plicatus, like most, is not from England (as many nurseries claim), nor is it like the weedy, taller snowflake (Leucojum). The specific epithet refers to the pleated, grey-green leaves. G. plicatus hails from eastern Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus; no wonder it's hardy and easy to grow here. (My mother grew it too, in Emerald, so it can take quite a bit of winter-cold.)
When our sweet resident wallaby wandered in - and ate - the garden, I kept many treasures in my shade-house. My garden club, the Alpine Garden Society (Victorian Chapter), sponsored UK botanist and Galanthus expert botanist John Grimshaw to come and give us lectures a few years ago. He commented that surely snowdrops wouldn't be grazed by my munching marsupials - no doubt from his experience with deer and the like. Maybe we have more in common, and fewer differences, than you would expect. Gingerly I brought my snowdrops out and, of course, John was right. (The wallaby-proof fence helps protect all my plants now, anyhow.) Now any Galanthus in plastic pots are popped in the ground - but I'll keep some in terracotta pots so that I can bring them to the front door area in winter.
Winter crocus (above) are blooming in one of my troughs, but after what, 10 years?, I've misplaced the label. It's odd, isn't it, how we like to know the names of our plants, instead of purely enjoying the show. (Although I don't want to buy the same one again...)
My home-made troughs that look (I hope) like stone, are home to many little gems. This week one of my favourite bulbs flowered amongst the saxifrages: Tecophilaea cyanocrocus `Leichtinii' (above) or pale blue `crocus'. The pure blue is hard to comprehend; so few flowers are true blue, let alone sky-blue. (Most have a touch of purple.) It's a lovely little cup or crocus-shaped flower, too. The species is an extraordinary deep blue - rare and expensive, I'm afraid - and delicious to snails!
All these bulbs are petite, which I love; fabulous harbingers of spring which are so welcome.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (www.jillweatherheaddesign.com.au)