Sow South African Bulbs for Summer Colour

Summer-Flowering Bulbs

With summer just around the corner, in the southern hemisphere at least, it is timely to consider some wonderfully colourful plants which all have their origins in South Africa.

While bulbs are generally thought of in connection with spring gardens, there is range of bulbs and rhizomes that add dazzling colour and gentle fragrance to a summer garden. The following plants are all heat tolerant. They like some water in the summer and a drier winter.

GladiolusCredit: Wikimedia

Gladiolus  (Gladiolus) may be a bit old-fashioned but they provide magnificent cut flowers and wonderful summer blooms. The stems may be up to 1.5 metres tall with flowers all along the stems. There is a huge range of colours including bi-colours.

Gladioli look best as a backdrop for shorter plants. They like a sunny position with fertilised, well-drained soil. Gladioli grow from corms which need to be planted 10 to 12cm deep and at least 10cm apart. Give a heavy soaking once a week, especially when the plants develop six leaves. Continue to water well until flowering is finished. Six to eight weeks after flowering, check the small leaf on the outside of the plant. When this turns brown, it is time to lift the corms. This is contrary to most plants, where the corms are left until the foliage dies back.

After breaking off the foliage, leave the corms to dry in mesh bags out of the sun.

HippeastrumCredit: Wikimedia

Hippeastrums (Hippeastrum) are in-your-face extroverts with big trumpet flowers. They are probably best appreciated in pots and are easier if grown in pots as the bulb needs to dry out a little in July/August which is well nigh impossible in a Mediterranean climate. The bulbs produce one or two stems each with up to four flared trumpets appearing at the top of the stems which may be 18 to 22cm tall. The flowers remain for two to three weeks. Colours include white, red, pink, orange, yellow and pale green with variations of stripes and edges on the petals and throats. The leaves are sword-shaped and dark green and appear after the flowers. The flowers may be single or double depending on the variety. Slugs and snails like hippeastrums too.

Hippeastrums like full sun in well-drained soil. The neck of the bulb should show above ground level.

Scarborough LilyCredit: Wikimedia

The Scarborough lily is also known as the vallota lily and has funnel-shaped flowers. Each stem grows up to 50cm tall and supports four to six flowers. Strap-shaped leaves grow near the bas of the stalk. Although red it the most common colour, orange, white and pink are also available.

Grow in full or light sun or shade in pots or in the ground. Leave the plants undisturbed for three or more years or until the original bulb has divided. Small side bulbs will eventually cover the surface of the potting mix. These can then be separated and replanted.

CannaCredit: Wikimedia - Author Mariano Ferroni

Canna (Cannaceae)
A great lush tropical look can be created with the addition of cannas to a garden. Although often called the 'canna lily', it is not a true lily. Its 19 species are related to the gingers, bananas, marantas and strelitzias among others. Canna derives from a Celtic word meaning 'cane' or 'reed'.

Although a tropical plant, most cultivars are easy to grow in temperate climates as long as they get 6 to 8 hours of sunlight during the summer.

The brilliance of the flowers and the large, attractive foliage make a great statement in the summer garden. These perennials grow from thick underground rhizomes. Most have tangerine coloured flowers. Tropicana Gold has bold green and gold stripes through each leaf with an orange flower edged in yellow. Tropicana Black has purplish-black leaves and scarlet-orange flowers. Cannas grow to 1.2 metres in continaer and slightly more if planted out in the garden.

They like a sunny position in improved soil. They can be planted in pots in the pond. They need plenty of water if they are to look their best but if water is scarce they will die down and sprout again when conditions are better. The foliage should be cut to 5cm in autumn.

Amaryllis belladonnaCredit: Wikimedia - Author Digigalos

Belladonna Lily (Amaryllus belladonna)
This is one of the most drought-tolerant bulbs available. Its scientific name is Amaryllis belladonna. It is also known as the 'naked lady' as it loses its leaves when in flower. Depending on the variety, the striking flowers are pink or white. They have a sweet fragrance and there may be up to six on each stem. They grow from 45 to 60cm tall.

The bulbs are big and easy to grow. They like full sun or half-shade. The leaves appear in autumn and die down late in spring. The bulb then has a period of dormancy until late summer when the plant flowers. There needs to be a dry resting period between the growth of the leaves and the flowering. Belladonna lilies do not like the frost.

These are only some of the available summer-flowering bulbs available. Your garden centre will be able to advise you of more.