Summer Bulbs

Gillian Sandeman

The fall planting of spring bulbs, the long wait for the garden to return and the pleasure brought by the first aconites, snowdrops and crocuses is part of the annual cycle of gardening. But summer bulbs can be as important in the garden. Few things you can put in your garden are as easy to grow as summer flowering bulbs and not many will continue to bloom so reliably for such a long time, years in fact.

Dahlias, begonias and gladioli are favourites in many summer gardens. Their tuberous roots and corms can easily be kept from year to year. But there are many more summer flowering bulbs which can add exotic shapes, bright or subtle colours and often seductive perfumes to your garden. All can be grown in containers. Remember that containers provide mobile plants: they can sit on your patio, be moved to a welcoming arrangement around your front door or usefully fill in a bare spot in the perennial garden. When your oriental poppies or bleeding hearts die back in the summer you can move a container full of blooming bulbs into their place and have instant flowers. You can also plant directly into the garden. Allow the foliage to die back, as you do on spring bulbs, to feed next year’s flowers. Mark their place if necessary and dig up in the fall for winter storage and planting next spring.

A few suggestions from many possibilities. Hymenocallis, Spider Lily, is much more beautiful than its name suggests. It looks a bit like a daffodil with six long segments encircling the corolla like spidery legs. It flowers in July for about six weeks. Gladiolus callianthus (acidanthera) flowers late in the summer. The flowers are smaller than the more common gladiolus varieties. They are white with purple centres and have a wonderful fragrance. They produce masses of new corms every year: start with a package of ten and within a few years you will be looking for people to give them to...the zucchini of the flower world? Another late summer bloomer is Polianthes tuberosa (tuberose).It has a stunning fragrance from the great clusters of waxy white star shaped flowers at the top of 24" stalks. Tuberose is native to Mexico: the Aztecs grew them and used them to add flavour to chocolate. Tuberose also produces masses of new bulblets every year. A spectacular mid-summer flower is produced by Scadoxus multiflorus (Blood Lily). It is generally grown as an indoor plant, but can go outside in a lightly shaded spot away from the hot midday sun. The red inflorescence resembles an allium. It is made up of delicate and graceful star-shaped flowers - sometimes as many as 200. It normally flowers at the beginning of the summer and is covered later on by a mass of little red berries.

Search the catalogues and the garden centres for other species. Follow the planting and care directions that come with them and enjoy some different colours, shapes and fragrances in your summer garden.