A child gazing into a hospital nursery, with all the newborns lined up in rows, is likely to ask, “Where do babies come from?” Similarly, a novice gardener, strolling through the aisles of a plant nursery for the first time, will wonder “Where do all these beautiful flowers come from?”
“The Gardener’s Atlas” (Firefly Books), by John Grimshaw, will help to answer your questions about the origin of roses, daisies, fuchsias, irises, bellflowers, wallflowers, lilies, primroses, and a host of other ornamental plants.
Gardeners are interested in the origins of plants for two reasons. First, knowing where plants come from will provide valuable information as to the cultural conditions needed for their care; in the Valley, a plant from the tropics, for instance, will need more humidity and sun protection than a plant from a dry climate. Second, the origins of plants will determine how to group them in the garden; plants indigenous to Australian eucalyptus forests should be grouped together and not combined with plants that are native to the English countryside or to the slopes of Mount Killmanjaro in East Africa.
Many of the flowers that will soon be popping out of bulbs in Valley gardens belong to the Narcissus family (Amaryllidaceae). As “The Gardener’s Atlas” points out, nearly all the plants in this family come from Mediterranean climates like our own where the winter is short and wet and the summer is long, hot and dry. Indeed, you could have four seasons of flowers solely from Narcissus family bulbs.
The first Narcissus bulb to bloom each year is Narcissus papyraceus or paperwhite narcissus, which is currently in full flower. The name Narcissus comes from the Greek word “narce,” which means narcotic and refers to the intoxicating fragrance of paperwhites and certain close relations, such as jonquils, miniature daffodils that bloom in spring.
Other spring-blooming, Narcissus-family bulbs include Leucojum vernum or spring snowflake, daffodils, ornamental onions and garlics (Alliums), and the Hippeastrums. Leucojum is a shade-loving bulb that is not bothered by heavy or damp soil. Its tiny white lamp-shade blooms are adorned with green markings around their edges. Alliums have huge spherical inflorescences, each consisting of hundreds of tiny florets. Hippeastrums produce giant trumpet flowers, as large as 9 inches across, in every shade of orange and red, as well as some scintillating pinks and whites with various colored stripes.
Nerines are highly decorative, summer and fall-flowering bulbs from the Narcissus family. Most memorable in pink and scarlet, nerines have six scalloped petals and spew forth ostentatious anthers that are several inches in length. Spider lilies (Lycoris and Hymenocallis), which have curved flower parts imparting an arachnoid look, also bloom in summer and fall.
An outstanding characteristic of Narcissus family members is their ability to naturalize or spread throughout a garden area, thanks to their robust bulbs, in the course of a few years.
Speaking of bulbs – they actually proliferate by means of bulblike underground stems known as rhizomes – a query on the care of Cannas was sent via e-mail by Evelyn Campbell, who recently uprooted herself from Texas and moved to Granada Hills. Cannas, which put forth magnificent irislike blooms throughout the summer, should be cut to the ground in late winter or early spring in order to encourage vigorous new vegetative growth prior to flowering. Other than that, removal of spent flower stalks is the only required maintenance. Someone once called Cannas “the lazy gardener’s delight.” In the Valley, they bloom best in partial sun. They can survive with a minimum of water but bloom profusely only when soil moisture is plentiful.