Thursday, 13 July 2017

experiments with South African bulbs

After the success of Gladiolus tristis in the gravel centre of the turning circle, Gladiolus papilio 'Ruby' is now blooming.  I can't say yet whether it is doing as well as G. tristis since the latter has started to bulk up, and from one initial bulb after a wait of three years I now have a small clump. I planted three bulbs of 'Ruby' last year, and three flower spikes on three discrete fans of leaves is what I have got.  Broadleigh Gardens, from whom I got my three bulbs, say that it is stoloniferous so if it starts to creep about I will know then that it is truly happy.

The flowers are very exciting, in an opulent way far removed from the kind of brilliant gladioli Dame Edna would brandish.  The colour is a rich, luminous cherry, the texture dense and almost fleshy, the shape of the individual blooms cupped rather than tubular.  I am not yet sure how hardy 'Ruby' will be.  Indeed, the more I read about it the more confused I become.  I bought it as a hybrid of the species Gladiolus papilio, which is how Broadleigh still describe it, but Avon Bulbs say it is now thought to be more closely related to Gladiolus ecklonii.  Lady Skelmersdale and Chris Ireland-Jones are both titans of the bulbs world so who to believe?  Avon advise it might be worth mulching 'Ruby' in cold gardens, and I think it's safe to assume that it's on the tender side, like G. tristis, although the Pacific Bulb Society says G. papilio is claimed to be hardy, grown in the UK since 1866.

In the greenhouse I still have my precious pot of seedlings of the suicide lily, Gladiolus flanaganii. I don't know how many more years it will be until they reach flowering size, but a single bulb from Pottertons, whose catalogue arrived in today's post, would set me back a fiver.  Pottertons say they are hardy in a well drained soil in full sun, which I can offer them, but I'm not risking putting them out until they're bigger.

A South African bulb which is naturalising in the gravel is Watsonia pillansii.  They have spikes of warm orange, tubular flowers, out now.  A recent visitor claimed to have them in his garden, which I wasn't going to argue about having never seen his garden, but I wondered if he actually had Crocosmia.  I have seen pots of Watsonia offered for sale at the splendid Beeches nursery near Saffron Walden, but it is not something you will pick up at most garden centres.  I raised my original plants from seed and kept them in pots to give them winter protection, and they were not thrilled with life in a pot.  Once planted into the soil they began to grow much better, and to flower.  Derry Watkins of Special Plants says they like sun or light shade, but not to be too dry. From my own observation I would say that while they might like not to be too dry, they put up with it pretty well, or at least they will get by with an average of twenty-one inches annual rainfall and no supplementary watering in soil one degree removed from builders' sand.  They are borderline hardy and the foliage of most of my clumps went badly brown after the cold nights late last winter, but all except a few seedlings recovered.  And, and this is the crunch point and why I say they are naturalising, they are not just seeding themselves about successfully but this year the seedlings are flowering.

I also have a pink hybrid form, bought from Beeches, which alas does not seem to set seed but is clumping up well, and a terracotta form also from Beeches which is disappearing into the fond embrace of a Teucrium fruticans.  I thought when I planted the Watsonia that the shrub would give it some useful winter protection, but the Teucrium wants to swallow it alive.  The Teucrium, incidentally, is the brighter blue form 'Azureum' which is supposed to be less hardy than the type, but has survived in its present spot since April 2012.  If you have succeeded or failed in growing T. fruticans in your own garden that might give you an idea of the conditions in which the Watsonia are growing.  I had better move the brick red clump to give it a proper space of its own.  When the right time to do that would be I am not sure.

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