Tuesday, April 2, 2013

South African Bulbs Flowering in the Garden

South African Clivias blooming near the Queen Anne Cottage

Enjoy the blooms now and plan for your fall planting.  Five of the most popular of the South African bulbs, which do very well in Southern California’s mild winters and dry summers, are Watsonia, Sparaxis, Freesia, Clivia, and Amaryllis. These are from the families of Iridaceae and Amaryllidaceae.  Leaves are usually long, cylindrical, strap-shaped.  Most like full sun -but some do well in shade. .


Watsonia flowers tall on branched stems with both evergreen and deciduous species, ranging in colors from white to peach to scarlet.  Stems and leaves can be large, 2 ½ to 4 or 6 feet long.
Sparaxis is notable for its splashes of contrasting colors on blooms which themselves come in a wide range of colors.  They are well-suited to borders and rock gardens and bloom over a long period in late spring.
Freesia are typically white or cream in older varieties with newer hybrids in a wider range of colors.  Freesias will dry up after bloom and tend to self-sow if flowers are not removed.  Freesias are often prized for their fragrance.
Clivia is an exception to the sunshine rule.  While Clivia like light they do not like direct sun.  It is a good companion for ferns and other shade-lovers with its brilliant orange and orange-yellow bloom.
Amaryllis, also called Naked Lady or Belladonna Lily, are dormant now but will spring to life come the hot weather of August with fragrant pink blooms.  They are drought resistant and tolerate almost any soil. They can take full sun but the blooms will last a bit longer in partial shade.
Anaryllis bulbs blooming on the northwest side of the Bauer lawn in August of last year. 

South African bulbs have become increasingly popular with Southern California gardeners as we have come to appreciate their adaptability to our climate and usefulness in our gardens.  There is a wide  choice of bulbs from online sources well beyond the popular five mentioned here.  You might check out the PacificBulbSociety.org for more information on available sources of usual and unusual bulbs.  Many purveyors of bulbs, both online and brick-and-mortar, begin their bulb offerings in July with September being the most popular month for bulb sales, just in time for fall planting.

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