If you have a passion for the sometimes subtle, sometimes in your face beauty that only flower bulbs can offer, then you live in the right country. South Africa in general and the Western Cape in particular, is blessed with a veritable treasure trove of horticultural wealth. This is especially true for our bulb kingdom. Nearly half of the bulbs grown in gardens around the world have their "roots" in South Africa.
Europeans have been cultivating our bulbs in their gardens for centuries and the question has to be asked: "Why don't we do the same?" Hybridiser's have had great success in improving the flower-size and colour range of our indigenous bulbs. These hybridised varieties, unlike many of their wild cousins, are easy to grow in a garden setting. The trick is to mimic some of their natural growing conditions. If given sufficient water through-out their growing season they will do very well in summer rainfall areas even though the original varieties were grown in winter rainfall areas. An easy way to achieve this is to water them, with a sprinkler, for at least 40 minutes every 4 days.
Being indigenous, our bulbs can be in situ throughout the year. Generally our indigenous bulbs like the same growing conditions, but check the back of the packs for specific requirements. They all prefer soil that is well-drained and on the sandy side. Dig copious amounts of compost into the beds and add a 3 cm layer of mulch on the surface. This will keep the soil temperature constant, and help considerably with moisture retention.
Flower bulbs are also perfect subjects for small gardens. For a relatively small outlay you can create a riveting display of colour, form and texture. Plant your bulbs in a concentrated mass rather than dotting them around the beds. Indigenous bulbs are also well suited to container planting. Place the bulbs so they almost touch each other, creating a massed effect.
Even when grown outside the Western Cape, these bulbs naturalise easily in most parts of the country. If you want them to multiply through the years it is advisable to start a feeding program once the bulbs finish flowering. There is an excellent bulb food on the market and a fortnightly dose will see to all the bulbs nutrient requirements. It is also vital that you continue watering until the foliage dies down naturally. After approximately three years the bulbs will have formed dense clumps. When this happens wait for the foliage to die down and then lift the bulbs gently with a fork. Divide up the bulbs and store them in orange bags or old stockings, in a well-ventilated spot, until planting time in April.
1.IXIA - Ixias are also known as the Wandflower, because they offer up a stunning 60 cm spike, studded with star-shaped flowers. The colours are bright, varying from purple, mauve and blue to red, orange, pink, yellow, cream and white. There's even a very unusual turquoise. The flower-centres are often coloured with contrasting darker hue. They flower for approximately a month in late winter and early spring.
2.LACHENALIA - These are wonderful little plants. Once in the ground they quickly push up two broad, dark green leaves, speckled with maroon dots. In later winter the bulb will sprout a 25 cm stem from which tubular flowers hang. The blooms are quite unusual, being mainly orange, but with contrasting blood red tips and bases. They work very well in rockeries and along the front of your borders. Plant the bulbs by mid-April.
3.CHINCHERINCHEE - Chinks, as they are commonly known, produce a cluster of star-shaped blooms, carried on a "pyramid" at the top of a bare, 50 cm long stalk. The flowers are generally white, and make particularly long-lasting cut flowers. The bulb produces a rosette of fleshy, broad leaves. These are usually prone on the ground, but may be carried semi erect. They are one of the latest bulbs to flower, usually through October.
4.FREESIAS - Freesias are a favourite with florists. They come in a wide variety of colours, and the glorious scent they exude will sweeten any room. Grown in light, dappled sunlight or semi-shade, they will lend a delightful fragrance to spring evenings, especially if they are grown in a courtyard where their scent can be trapped.
5.SPARAXIS - Frost hardy and easy to grow, sparaxis offer up multitudes of showy blooms, making them one of the most popular indigenous bulbs on the market. It does help that they are relatively inexpensive! They can be used to good effect in mixed borders, rockeries and pots. They multiply rapidly, so lift and divide every few years.
6.TULBAGHIA - Of our many tulbaghia species, T. fragrans or "sweet garlic" has the showiest, agapanthus-like blooms and nicest scent. Available as a "dry" bulb in autumn, they will tolerate the poorest of soils and even some neglect, but for best results treat them as you would all other bulbs.
7.DAUBENYA - Also known as "The Jewel of the Desert", this is one of our more unusual bulbs with its almost cup-and-saucer flower and leaf combination. They are frost hardy, surviving temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius in their home range. Position the bulbs in a sunny position about 20 cm apart or one bulb per pot. They will flower late July to early August.
8.WATERBLOMMETJIE - It may not seem so, but waterblommetjies do in fact grow from a bulb or more correctly a tuberous rhizome. With their decorative, oblong leaves and delicately scents white blooms; they are one of the most architectural water plants. They can either be planted in pots sunk into a pond at a depth from 10 to 60cm deep or if there is sufficient silt on the pond's floor just scattered over the water's surface. Those that don't sink immediately can be tied to small stones.
Information Supplied by Hadeco. Visit Hadeco's website www.hadeco.co.za for more information.
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