Bulbs that will shine in summer borders

Bulbs are something that we normally think about planting in the autumn for a spring display.

Plants like daffodils, tulips and crocus but, if we take a little time and do some research, we'll find a whole new and interesting world of bulborous plants that can be ordered now and planted during the spring to give us some sumptuous effects all summer and often into the autumn too.

I thought that it might be fun to look at some of these lovelies and explore how they might be used in our gardens. Now that most, if not all of the latest garden plant catalogues are in it's a good time to quietly go through them and cross reference before we decide which bulbs to buy from which merchant for occasionally there can be great variations in their pricing.

Let us start with miscellaneous bulbs; my first choice would be Acidanthera murielae, now known as Gladiolus callianthus. I shall order lots of them for they make a stunning late summer, early autumn statement. They are not generally regarded as hardy but, if you harvest them at the end of the season, it is possible to keep them for another year. However, they are such good value that I don't think that this matters, as they sell for around �5 per hundred bulbs, that means you can afford to be generous with them and even throw them out after they have flowered. Threaded through a border they will both surprise and delight you with their large, scented, star-shaped white flowers each with a violet-carmine blotch at the height of around a metre (3 feet 3 inches).

In the garden they should be planted from March onward and for a succession of bloom, they can be planted at three week intervals until late June, this is especially useful if you are growing them for cutting. They also make great pot subjects when you can plant them in three separate layers in deep containers, this will give you pots full of blossom; I saw them used with great originality and style in Sue Skipper's garden at the Briton's Arms Coffee House and Restaurant in Norwich last year. She had grouped pots of Acidanthera with pots of one of the tall growing Panicums, an ornamental grass with a bluish cast to the leaves and airy flowers with purple tints. In late summer, the effect was mesmerising.


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One of the stars among the summer flowering bulbs that we grew here last year were the groups of Tigridas, colloquially known as peacock flowers because of their brilliant colours. These we bought in separate colours and made generous drifts of them through the new border along our entrance path. Tigridas have strange flowers each with three petals and all with contrasting, blotched centres, each flower lasts but a single day, although there are lots to follow on giving a succession of blossom, they grow to around 60 cms (2 feet) tall. Again these are thought of as tender but, they can be harvested in the autumn for future years. However, if you decide to do this, make sure that they are planted in full sun for coming from Mexico they need all the sun they can get in order to ripen their bulbs for future blossoms. We bought ours in separate colours at around �11 per hundred but, if you prefer them in mixed colours, they will only cost you around �8 per hundred.

At a lower level, around 30 cms (12 inches), Homerias from South Africa are good plants, again these demand full sun and although thought of as only half-hardy, they have proved themselves to be soundly perennial in our Mediterranean Garden for the past fifteen years. They generally come in two colours, yellow and soft, pinkish orange both of which look stunning together which is just as well for they are sold as mixed colours! They cost around �9 per hundred and lend themselves to growing in any hot, dry area of garden.

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Of a similar stature, Ixias, known as the African Corn Lily are graceful in the extreme. Each flower stem is tough and wiry so that the flower heads dance and sway seductively on the slightest breeze. They come in shades of white, lemon, yellow, pink, carmine and mauve each bloom with a seductively dark eye. Again a position in full sun is desirable and if your soil is on the light side, they will become reliably perennial; they also cut well for use in vases. They will cost around �4 to �5.50 per hundred.

Of more diminutive stature and of similar price, Sparaxis known as the harlequin flower for their vibrantly bright colours of reds, oranges, pinks, yellows and white are just the ticket for brightening up the garden. Full sun is their main requirement for again they are South African and more often than not they are hardy although I suspect that last winter may have been too cold and too long for them although we may yet be agreeably surprised. However, they are such a delight that I shall order a few more, just in case! They coast �4.50 per hundred.

Galtonia candicans or summer hyacinths as they are incorrectly called are the epitome of elegant charm. For a start, they are white, or in the variety Viridiflora green flowered which immediately renders them as smart among the gardening cognoscenti, I think I'm going off them already! They grow to a height of around 1.2 metres (4 feet) tall and can have as many as thirty flowers on a single stem so what's not to like? They are hardy too which is a bonus but they do have a propensity to seed themselves around. They make excellent cut flowers and are well worth keeping in mind if you have a late summer wedding that you are preparing for. They will cost you between �21 and �23 per hundred.

Similarly, Chincherinchees, Ornithogalum thyrsoides also bloom in late summer and flower at a height of 40 cms (16 inches). Although not hardy, they are proven to have a long vase life where they will remain fresh for up to three weeks if you change their water regularly. White flowers with beguiling green eyes are what you get at a cost of �8.50 per 100. I have quoted the cost of the above in hundreds but, you can buy as few as 25 of each if you wish.

All the bulbs that I have written about have been grown by me and are from J. Parker Dutch Bulbs Wholesale, telephone 01618770602 for a catalogue or look them up on line at www.dutchbulbs.co.uk

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