Add Colour With Summer Flowering Bulbs
By midsummer the garden often runs out of steam. Often overlooked, summer flowering bulbs are star performers later in the season and offer exceptional value if bought early in their dormant state; some are also surprisingly easily raised from seed. The exquisite Lilium formosum var. pricei for example is a wonderful dwarf fragrant lily, ideal for a gravel or scree bed, or to grow in containers. It multiplies to form clumps of narrow dark leaves and elegant trumpet blooms. If bulbs are hard to get hold of, then try it from seed if you have a little patience.
Gladiolus corms are readily available and usually inexpensive to buy. The large flowering gladioli are more difficult plants to incorporate in mixed plantings, their heavy spikes can look awkward and ungainly. However the smaller species and species hybrids are lighter and prettier and mix well with other plants. Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus is the earliest to flower and is a reliable cottage-garden favourite. Tall 90cm (3ft) spikes carry bright magenta flowers well above the sword-shaped leaves. Left undisturbed it spreads to form large clumps that are easily lifted and divided. It needs full sun to flower well.
Gladiolus ‘The Bride’ is also an early bloomer with 60cm (2ft) stems carrying elegant ivory-white flowers that are wonderful for cutting. Gladiolus ‘Prins Claus’ is a little larger with soft red-pink markings on the petals.
Peacock flower, Calochortus superbus, is a North American prairie native flowering in
summer. The tiny bulbs produce tall, thin stems reaching 60cm or more with delicate foliage and fine, pointed flowerbuds. These open into rounded cone-shaped, exquisitely marked flowers. Calochortus is useful among later blooming perennials and is effective rising above the delicate flower stems of heucheras.
Often mistaken for an agapanthus, Scilla peruviana is a spectacular bulb that produces large flowerheads resembling a sapphire allium. It needs a sunny situation where it produces a rosette of green hyacinth-like leaves before the large deep blue flowerheads appear in summer. It is ideal to grow through gravel with aromatics such as thyme, rosemary and lavender. The name is misleading, Scilla peruviana hails from the Mediterranean.
Formerly known as Brodiaea laxa, the Californian bluebell is a real summer gem. Fine stems carry sparkling heads of starry sapphire flowers 30cm (1ft) or so above the ground. Plant the bulbs in early spring 10cm (4ins) or so apart in loose groups. In full sun the buds and thin leaves will easily make their way through thin ground cover plants. Triteleia laxa ‘Koningin Fabiola’, with purple-blue flowers looks wonderful with silver foliage plants such as Convolvulus cneorum. Tritelia is wonderful for cutting and remarkably long-lasting.
Known as the Persian buttercup, Ranunculus asiaticus is popular for its large, colourful double flowers that open in summer. Finely cut foliage emerges first, followed by round green buds that open into the rounded blooms that resemble layers of silky tissue paper. The small tubers that look like tiny bunches of brown bananas are planted in spring in a sunny, sheltered position. The flowers dislike wet weather so a position near a sunny wall or fence is ideal. Ranunculus make wonderful cut flowers but the stems are sometimes too weak to support the blooms in a vase. Cut ranunculus when fully open and change the water regularly or use a cut flower food.
Tiger flower, Tigridia pavonia is another bulb that likes a hot, sunny situation and will thrive in drought conditions. It can grow to well over 90cm (3ft) in height, producing its showy open blooms in late summer. Each flower is short lived but there are plenty of buds which open in succession. In colder areas it is worth planting five bulbs 10cm (4ins) deep in a 20cm (8ins) pot in a greenhouse and conservatory. They can then be planted out when growth is underway in early summer. Try tigridia it in a sunny border among late flowering perennials or to take over from earlier blooming delphiniums and lupins.
Harlequin flower, Sparaxis tricolor, is a little gem from South Africa. It grows like a small crocosmia or freesia with a narrow fan of grass-like foliage. Fine stems carry bright, yellow eyed starry flowers in a wide range of cheerful colours. It likes sun and good drainage and only survives from year to year outside in the mildest areas. In any case it is worth planting for a single season. Best results are usually achieved by starting several bulbs in a pot and planting them out when growth is underway in early summer. Alternatively grow it from seed sown in pots indoors and planted out when well advanced. Sparaxis makes a lively contrast to grey foliage plants and aromatics such as thymes and lavenders that also enjoy hot, dry conditions.
Summer flowering bulbs that enjoy a hot, sunny situation and dry conditions after flowering are an ideal choice for drought tolerant planting. However, when planting, remember that our winters can be very wet even if summers are dry so give these bulbs good drainage by preparing the ground well and adding plenty of sharp grit to improve drainage. The more favourable the growing conditions the greater chance you have of the coming up again next year.