Thursday, 20 March 2014

Bulbs flourishing at the Autumn Equinox

Sea squills (Drimia maritima, Syn. Urginea) have thrust up strong stalks of starry white flowers amid mauve obedient plant but elsewhere autumn bulbs have arisen from garden beds rendered husky-dry from rows of 40 degree days where perennials have been reduced to crispy mulch.
At last there are more than a couple of flowering size bulbs of Mediterranean Drimia but I think recent record-breaking hot weather may be the cause of sea squills flowering like there’s no tomorrow; they give the garden some good vertical lines as they reach for the sky.

From South America comes the Sacred Lily of the Incas, white, perfumed, bizarrely-shaped; it’s been flowering for some time (Hymenocallis, above).
Bulbs from South Africa, too, grow well in Victoria; Belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna), especially, have erupted all over the garden. There are so many autumn bulbs and they seem to have appeared to welcome the equinox; fanciful, but reflecting my mood perfectly.

Yellow Sternbergias haven’t flowered yet so the colour palette seems very restricted: red, pink-mauve and white. (Some other colours in the garden are supplied by a few perennials valiantly marching on, particularly blue salvias.)
Elephant’s Ears (Haemanthus coccineus, below) have waxy, scarlet blooms (bracts, actually, around a paint brush head of tiny flowers); the huge, attractive leaves are yet to appear. My favourite (living) garden writer, James Hitchmough, writes that this is `the ideal botanical candidate for a Dali painting!’

Easier to use in the garden is Scarborough Lily (Cyrtanthus elatus, Syn. Vallota, above) which is a bright, orange-red too, but more effective: taller, prettier, and a wonderful contrast to green.

Deep-vermillion red are Nerine fothergillii `Major’ which add a punch to the garden; particularly effective amongst grey foliage, say, Dianthus.
Nerine come in hard candy pink too, in N. bowdenii. Hot pink, saturated pink…use with care!

More subtle pink bulbs that are still effective in the garden include pale pink Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes), Colchicum (above, and see post 26/2/14), and rockery cyclamen, C. hederifolium, the latter 2 a lovely lilac-pink and superb in drifts. And while it’s a bright pink, I have a few – a very few – Belladonna Lilies with candy pink trumpets, white throated (possibly `Parkeri’, below), far from the house, but adding perfume to the garden.

Yes, it’s the autumn equinox and the nights are cooling. Every single bulbous flower at the moment reminds me that the garden is starting to recover from the severe summer and the weather is becoming more benign; time to enjoy the garden again (and plant some shady trees).

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, (

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