Rewarding Bulbs

Gardeners’ Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts 

By Dan Songster, 2011 January

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. This issue’s question was: Which native bulb do you find most rewarding? 

Dan Songster—I can’t stop loving or planting various Calochortus with C. venustus being possibly my favorite due to its color variations and lovely patterns. Like most Calochortus, they love good drainage and need a rest from watering in the summer. If you can provide that either in your garden or in containers, they are very rewarding!

Alison Taylor — The chocolate lily [Fritillaria biflora] is an intriguing plant because of its flower color—logically, chocolate brown [sometimes a bit greenish outside]. It has several open bell-shaped flowers, about 1/2 inch long, with ovate leaves often growing up the stem.

Bart O’Brien — I’d have to say that my favorite “bulb-type” plant is actually not a bulb at all – but it is a geophyte: Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. insulare, the island shooting star. It is so easy to grow and keep for long periods of time, particularly in a pot. I’ve grown them several times and currently have two. After they turn yellow and dry up, I put the pots in the garage on a safe shelf and leave them there completely dry for the summer. This year I forgot them in there until the recent deluge, but I got them out into the rain on the second day. They were up by the end of the storm series. I will water them as they need it, keeping them pretty much moist (not dry, not sopping wet) for the growing season and in partial shade. As long as you keep snails, slugs, and bugs away from them, they go on for years and years. Not so easy in the ground as they tend to get some summer water and then they rot out, or the pests get them. Beautiful and easy in small pots (4″ to 6″ generally work out best).

Ron Vanderhoff — Close call between Lilium humboltiiFritillaria biflora and Calochortus weedii var. intermedius, but I definitely have to go with the later. The epicenter of this Mariposa lily is Orange County. The flowers are stunning and incredibly intricate, no two quite the same. It’s here from the coast to the canyons, rare some years, then common the next. It prefers to show its soft yellow, gold to apricot-hued flowers in the years following a cool wildfire.

Sarah Jayne — The most rewarding—in fact the only rewarding—bulb that I have tried in my garden is Golden Stars, Bloomeria crocea. I planted several bulbs ten or eleven years ago. Each year since, great strappy leaves appear here and there in April, always popping up in new places. In late May, the cheery golden flowers come out and hang around for almost a month. I have some favorite spots in the wild where I visit them every year, too.  

Alan Lindsay—Until I started working in the GWC garden I never thought about bulbs, still don’t think much about them. That is I never thought about bulbs of the California Floristic Province. My wife and I always ordered tulips and narcissus bulbs each fall but they don’t count. Still have some narcissus that won’t give up. Sorry, I don’t have a favorite unless those onions from the island do something spectacular.

Celia Kutcher—My favorite bulb: Bloomeria crocea, Golden Stars, because they have done the best of all the bulbs I’ve planted in my garden.


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