Beyond Daffodils and Narcissus

We live in an area of the country blessed with a Mediterranean climate (warm, wet winters under prevailing westerly winds and calm, hot, dry summers.) Sooo, why not venture beyond the familiar and try some South African corms in your garden? Corms? Not bulbs? Yep! Bulbs are underground stems that contain an embryonic plant complete with leaves, stems, and flower buds. These are wrapped around with scales (modified leaves) held together at the base. Bulbs will persist for many years, periodically producing new small bulbs. Corms, on the other hand, are underground stems that are solid and do not have the overlapping leaves. Each corm only lasts one year. It shrivels as it uses up its stored energy to grow and bloom. A new corm forms on top. Cormels also grow around the base.

Some of the more popular are: Sparaxis, Babiana, Ixia, Freesia, and Watsonia. All can be planted from late August to October. All can be grown in pots as well as in the ground. If you tend to water your garden a lot during the summer months, you will have more luck enjoying those with small-sized corms when grown in pots as the bulbs tend to rot when the soil is warm and wet. All look best planted in groups. All the flowers can be cut and brought inside to enjoy up close. Some, like Freesia, has a wonderful scent. Most will naturalize in the garden if planted in well-drained soil. Some so prolifically, that you will have an endless supply to share with fellow gardeners.

Sparaxis (Harlequin flower) has short iris-like foliage, followed by small spikes of multicolored funnel-shaped flowers. Plant them in full sun or partial shade. They bloom from February to April and will return every year.

Tritonia produces spike-like clusters of brilliant flowers. It will bloom in sun or shade, though best in sun. It blooms in late spring.

Babiana (baboon flowers - because baboons are said to like to eat them) produces spikes of freesia-like flowers in blue, lavender, red, cream, and white and blooms in March. Leaves are strongly ribbed. The downside of these plants is that they tend to hold on to their dead foliage. I wait until the foliage has started to yellow, then cut the leaves about an inch above the ground.

Freesia is a very popular flower because of its enchanting fragrance. It grows well in a border or clusters around the garden. The blooms come in a rainbow of beautiful colors: lavender, purple, pink, red, yellow, blue, orange, and white.

Watsonia produces fans of sword-like foliage which appear with the onset of cooler weather in the fall. The blooms, which appear in the mid-late spring, are similar in shape to gladiolus flowers but the smaller blossoms are fragrant and trumpetlike. They make great cut flowers. They prefer sunny locations.

These corms may sometimes be found at Armstrongs, Home Depot, or Lowe’s.
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By Lisa Pavel