Today’s post comes from my friend Cynthia Mueller. Cynthia and I became friends while I was working on my masters degree at A&M. She is a volunteer in the horticultural extension department and one of the most knowledgeable plant people I have ever known. She is also the first person to ever publish any of my garden writings. Cynthia is an expert on so many things. However she has a special love for bulbs. Cynthia recently spoke to a local garden club and she sent me her talk. It is the most comprehensive list of the best bulbs for our part of Texas that I have ever seen. While you are sitting inside this winter dreaming of your spring garden, why not peruse her list of the best bulbs for our central Texas gardens. These bulbs are perennial in our area and will brighten your garden for years.
Amaryllis Johnsonii or Hardy Red Amaryllis. This was one of the first amaryllis to be hybridized in England, around 1812. It is more cold tolerant than Dutch or florists’ amaryllis, or hippeastrums. But in our climate gift bulbs of florists’ amaryllis can be recycled into the garden where they will live except after the coldest of winters. These are classic hand-me-down Southern bulbs, good in climates to about 7b.
Lovely bulbispermum crinum in my front bed
Crinums are truly indicative of Southern gardens. They are found in many different forms. Everyone has heard of “milk and wine lilies” but these are not just one plant, but any crinum with stripes of pink on a white background, so there can be quite a variety. These can be crosses between C.bulbispermum, the tough old Orange River crinum and C. zeylanicum, a more tender plant from the tropics. C. x baconi is composed of crosses between americanum and zeylanicum. C. x gowenii are composed of crosses between bulbispermum and zeylanicum. C. x herbertii are crosses between C. scabrum and bulbispermum. C. digweedii are crosses between americanum and scabrum. We are sometimes dismissive of the “ditch lilies” or C. bulbispermum found in abandoned gardens or in cemeteries in Texas, but they have given their toughness and cold hardiness to many crinum hybrids which we do enjoy.
Daffodils – Tazettas – Jonquils
In the South, almost anything yellow might be called a jonquil! Narcissus are usually multi-flowered, and daffodils single flowered. Most daffodils cannot be kept permanently here, but some of the narcissi are classics. N. jonquilla x odorus ‘Campernelle’ is the “Campernelle” of Southern yards and graveyards, N. ‘Papyraceous’ is the ‘Paperwhite.’(1600s). Very old tazetta hybrids include ‘Grand Monarque,’ (1600s) Soleil d’Or and the old cross ‘Italicus.’ These bulbs need very little help to survive. Moving them out from under the shade of evergreen trees or dividing them every so many years will aid them in blooming more. ‘Erlicheer’ and ‘Winston Churchill’ are also good choices for our area. The Chinese Sacred Lily, N. tazetta orientalis has also been cultivated since the 1600s. The old hybrid ‘Intermedius’ such as Texas Star is yellow and starry looking with narrow foliage.
Paperwhites look perfectly at home in the old cemetery of Calvert’s Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. They are the only plantings here.
Only one of the Leucojums is really at home in Central Texas: L. aestivum, or Summer Snowflake. It’s called SS even though it blooms in the spring. None of the Snowdrops (Leucojum vernum) will really survive here.
I love the small flowers of luecojum or “Summer Snowflake”
Philippine/Formosa lilies – an old-fashioned favorite with a mixed pedigree from both Philippine and Formosan strains. It is extremely vigorous, and can flower the same year the seeds are sown. Cut the stalks after flowering to keep small seedlings from filling your flower beds. There is a dwarf variety called ‘Pricei’ but the five foot tall stalks with as many as a dozen flowers truly makes a cottage garden-like scene. Other lilies that may become permanent in your garden are Easter lilies (L. longiflorum) and Tiger lilies (L. henryi).
Rain lilies we usually grow in Central Texas may be either Zephyranthes or Habranthus. They are quite tough and drought tolerant once they are established. Take care that rain lilies are not planted in an area where garden sprinklers keep them too wet, as they usually are stimulated to bloom within days of a good rain shower.
Z. x La Buffarosa
Crosses such as Z. x Grandjax, Ajax, Sunset Strain, etc.
Grand Primo are one of the prettiest and most reliable narcissus for our area.
Scilla peruviana – not really from Peru, but from the Mediterranean, this bulb can bring welcome blue color into the garden. After the leaves die down the bulb can be lifted and stored in the garage to keep it dry. This seems to help flowering the next year.
Tigrida – or Mexican shell flower, needs a warm, sunny and well drained place in the flower bed. Some commercial varieties don’t last as well as others – experiment. Each bloom lasts but one day, but they are a marvel of intricacy.
Iris: Not very many of the German bearded iris do well in our area, or towards the coast. However, everyone has seen the white Cemetery iris, I. albicans. It was brought from North Africa by the Moors to Spain, and travelled to Texas with the earliest Spaniards. It’s another plant that has established itself almost everywhere, but does not bear seeds.
Siberian iris need more cold than we can offer, but sometimes varieties such as ‘Caesar’s Brother’ can be grown. Louisiana iris, spurias, and some of the small species irises are nice companions in our flower beds. Iris fulva, cerulea, prismatica, and virginica.
‘Walking Iris’ are more tropical in origin but can grow outside in sheltered places, or in containers that are brought in during the winter. Trimezia has yellow flowers dotted with brown, and the Neomaricas have fugacious flowers in shades of white to blue, sometimes with darker brown dotted patterns. Tufts of new offsets grow on the ends of their stems, and ultimately bend down to ground level, where they take root.
Agapanthus – our commercial varieties are hybrids between several species of African bulbs. If possible, choose ‘evergreen’ rather than ‘deciduous’ varieties. Agapanthus may be blue, blue-violet, light blue, or white. Some are much shorter than others. Be sure to give them full sun and protection from heavy frosts. They’ll enjoy the alkaline conditions in our area.
Members of the Onion Family, or Alliums, are not very plentiful in our gardens. The large, ornate and decorative ornamental onions with great balls of purple or white on the ends of 3-5’ stalks, cannot grow here well. We must make do with the old fashioned Neapolitan onion, flowering garlic, Tulbagia violacea (Society Garlic), or flowering chives.
Lovely pink rain lilies from Cynthia’s front yard
Crocus – Most of the Crocus family are not a good match for the College Station/Bryan area, because of problems with chilling requirements. The Saffron Crocus, C. sativus, has a long history going back to Egyptian and Minoan times, and not just as a spice but as a medicinal herb too. Grow these for fun in containers, so that you can keep them dry during the summer. I have heard of one family living near Somerville, Texas who claims to grow these in the garden, and that they are multiplying. The scarlet-orange stamens are the part that is picked and used as a flavoring.
Cannas sometimes suffer from the bad publicity of being called weedy, tall and eaten up by leaf rollers. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are many attractive shorter hybrids on the market now that can provide excellent summer color. Just remember that, in a way similar to German iris, once a canna stalk has finished blooming it won’t bloom again, so cut it off at ground level. Several caterpillars of the “skipper” type of butterfly feed on emerging canna stalks. This helps in keeping things neat. They can be controlled by policing the plants, or by spraying a little insecticide into the rolled up coil of an emerging stalk. Some varieties of canna seem to be unattractive to leaf rollers.
Day lily ‘Kwanso’ is an antique double form of Hemerocallis fulva that is still found in Texas gardens. It does not set seed, but manages to multiply and be discovered in garden after garden. There are many, many modern day lilies to choose from – let your personal taste decide – but if possible choose the ‘evergreen’ forms over ‘deciduous’ forms, which were bred for colder climates.
Byzantine gladiolus, with their spikes of fiery magenta flowers, are a sought after item in bulb catalogs. The ones offered from Europe are really not the same bulb at all, and usually disappear after a year or so in the garden. The Byzantine glad does not set seed for us, but multiplies at a fast rate, and is really a permanent garden resident.
In my opinion, byzantine gladiolus are the most romantic of all the old garden bulbs
‘Tropical Giant’ is a large sterile hymenocallis with glossy, dark green leaves that no insects seem to want to eat. It has spidery white flowers during the summer, and is an excellent permanent garden subject. C. americanum and C. erubescens are two other good candidates for growing near water.
Anemones grow from small, claw-shaped roots and if care is given to their situation in the garden, they will survive for several years.
Achimenes, natives of the area between Mexico to Panama, can be kept out of doors permanently in larger containers, sometimes in the flower bed if it does not stay wet for long periods of time in the winter. They can be purchased in almost any floral color. They benefit from light shade and moist conditions.
Oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida) is a native of Argentina. All those we see in old gardens and vacant lots descended from those imported in the late 1800’s by Peter Oberwetter, a German horticulturist from the Austin area. And they did all this without the benefit of plentiful seeds! They rarely set any, because they are all derived from one single clone. Occasionally a pink form is found.
Calla lilies are usually hardy here for us. They do not have to be planted near standing bodies of water, but will thrive in fairly moist soil. The smaller florists’ varieties are better as houseplants, larger varieties outside, preferably where they will receive sun in the morning, shade in the afternoon.
Tulips need more winter chilling hours than we can offer, but there are several species tulips that might last: T. chrysantha and T. clusiana (lady tulip).
Hymenocalis, or Spider Lily, has large upright foliage that can be used as a hedge. Plus it is resistant to just about all pests
For further reading:
Bulbs for Warm Climates, by Dr. Thad Howard. UT Press, Austin, 2001.
Garden Bulbs for the South, by Scott Ogden. Taylor Publishing Co., Dallas, 1994.
Perennial Garden Color, by Dr. William C. Welch, Taylor Publishing Co., Dallas, 1989.
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