Container landscaping with Indigenous Bulbs
Indigenous bulbs, the gems of South Africa are prized by collectors from the Pacific Rim to Europe. Once that bug has bitten, we cannot contain our sheer excitement each season when we keep our bulbs under constant surveillance to see the first of the winter growers sprouting in late summer and in early September, the summer bulbs heralding the arrival of spring. With such incredible diversity, how do we select the ideal bulbs for container landscaping, irrespective of where we live in the country? We all love beautiful flowers, but the added bonus of the indigenous bulbs selected below is their equally beautiful and interesting foliage. All these bulbs will thrive in containers anywhere in South Africa as long as they are planted in the right soil mix and protected from adverse weather conditions, particularly intermittent rain during their dormancy. Many indigenous bulbs do not require large, heavy pots. Many are better suited to bowl-type containers and these can easily be moved out of sight during dormancy or if the species requires a large container, interplant with attractive, select small to medium rocks which alone replicate a rock garden or place other pots filled with evergreen species close by. The use of some seasonal planting in container landscaping also adds interest to the patio which is such an integral part of our outdoor living space in our glorious South African climate.
“ We all love beautiful flowers, but the added bonus of the indigenous bulbs selected below is their equally beautiful and interesting foliage. All these bulbs will thrive in containers anywhere in South Africa as long as they are planted in the right soil mix and protected from adverse weather conditions, particularly intermittent rain during their dormancy.”
Summer flowering bulbs:
• Boophone disticha – Tumblehead or Gifbol. One of the most easily recognisable indigenous bulbs. Ideal for medium to large terracotta or rough, earthy textured containers. Interplant with small rocks. Large round head of pink red flowers in spring followed by very dramatic fan- shape, grey green leaves throughout summer. Welldrained soil, waterwise, full sun, winter dormant.
• Merwilla plumbea (formerly Scilla natalensis) – Large blue squill An almost conical shape pale to deep purplish blue head of flowers on long gently curving stem always draws attention in Spring. Large, broad grey green leaves follow and the large raised, flakey caudex is most attractive even when leafless in winter interplanted with rocks tightly packed into a terracotta pot. Winter dormant, full sun, well drained soil and waterwise.
• Eucomis vandermerwei – This dwarf, rare eucomis has become very popular over the last few years. The spotted leaves are very attractive and the stout, dwarf stem with burgundy flowers is so well suited to container landscaping. A shallow bowl-type container is perfect as a centre piece on a patio table for this sought after eucomis. Full sun or semi-shade, winter dormant, average water but well-drained soil.
• Ammocharis coranica – Ground Lily or Seeroogblom The grey green leaves of Ammocharis lie almost flat on the ground and overlap somewhat. A large round head of pink to pink red, sweetly scented flowers in early to mid-summer. Full sun, winter dormant, well-drained soil and waterwise.
• Crinum bulbispermum – Orange River Lily. The large showy pink white flowers with dark keels in late spring are always a show-stopper. One seems almost mesmerized by these large flowerheads and by the beautiful broad recurved leaves. Those leaves have a very short dormancy period from early winter to early spring. Sun, winter dormant, water reasonably well in summer.
Winter flowering bulbs
• Haemanthus coccineus – April fool We know that winter is approaching fast when this paintbrush produces its fiery red blooms in late summer. The sub-erect, leathery grey leaves interplanted with large dark grey pebbles make an interesting display throughout winter. Full sun, semi-hardy, very well-drained soil, keep dry during summer dormancy and average winter watering.
• Daubenya aurea – Jewels of the desert A relatively shallow bowl-type container with 3-5 red or yellow daubenyas provides one of the most striking displays on the coldest days of the year. From their natural habitat in the Sutherland area, a beautiful and coldest part of the country, they obviously thrive on frost. The colder, the better the flowering. They require full sun and deep watering once or twice a week once they have sprouted in late summer. Keep dry during summer dormancy when they are best kept in their container placed in a cool, dry room until they start sprouting again.
• Haemanthus sanguineus Another beautiful haemanthus for medium size containers. Brilliant red flowers in late summer followed by two thick, leathery, broad prostrate leaves with red margins. The leaves become very large and are most attractive. They too should be planted in groups of 3 in a wide-rimmed pot. Sun, hardy, keep dry during summer dormancy, average water in winter.
• Haemanthus albiflos – White paintbrush The large, robust, glossy, thick leaves ensure that this display always looks good. Mass plant in a bowl-type container (container should be wide and not be too deep). The white flowers emerge from late summer into autumn and are very showy with their yellow stamens. This is the ideal waterwise, no fuss bulb species for shade containers.
• Veltheimia bracteata – Glossy forest lily The forest lily can be evergreen or have a very short dormancy period in mid-summer. It too is low-maintenance. The leaves are glossy green with a frilled edge and the flower, pinkish red, very showy, similar to an aloe-type flower. Shade. Semi-hardy. Waterwise and well-drained soil. The rare lemon yellow form is available from specialist nurseries.
• Clivia robusta – Swamp clivia This is the newly described species formerly referred to as Clivia gardenii swamp clivia. Similar to gardenii, but prefers moist conditions, has a broader leaf with a blunt tip and the plants are very robust. Plant 3 in a medium to large container in the corner of a shaded patio. Orange pendulous flowers with green tips in autumn. Semi-hardy.
There are many, many other beautiful indigenous bulbs such as the Brunsvigias, other Haemanthus, Massonias, Resnovas & countless Cyrtanthus and Nerines which all do very well in Container Landscaping.