Gardens And Roadsides*
by Rosemary McCreary
summer, tourists and new residents alike are fascinated by
naked ladies that come out of nowhere and run up and down
fence lines and roadsides throughout Sonoma County.
They pop up in our cities, too, some standing straight and
tall, others seductively bobbing their frilly pink heads.
isn't a bevy of Hollywood dollies or even Dame Ednas
stripped to the bone, but some might say the sight is just
as audacious. Not everyone loves
naked ladies -- the
flowering bulbs, that is -- but first-time viewers find them
curious and never fail to pose the question, "What are those
calls these belladonna lilies by their more titillating
name. Botanically they're known as Amaryllis
belladonna, a native of the South African Mediterranean
Not a lily
at all but a true amaryllis, this is the only plant in the
Amaryllis genus. Its many cousins, such as Lycoris, ,
in the same family bear a close resemblance. (What we
call amaryllis that we force into bloom in winter is
botanically classified as a member of the genus Hippeastrum.)
the amaryllis bulb produces mounds of strap like leaves that
resemble lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus) foliage, but are
shinier. It isn't until months later that this
would-be lily blooms on naked stems, long after lush spring
died back, hence the
begins in July, sometimes in August, depending on the
microclimate where you live. Clusters of trumpet-like
blossoms, which are nearly always pin, last for several
weeks. The variety Hathor is said to bear an average
of 16 fragrant white blossoms. A few other named
cultivars exist in varying shades of pink, but they seem to
be rare and not easy to locate.
become quite large and heavy and multiply as they age.
If you want to divide them, now is the time, but don't be
surprised if transplants or new plants resist blooming for a
couple of years.
enough, the sturdy-looking bulbs are extraordinarily
temperamental. They demand very specific growing
conditions, including well-drained soil in winter that stays
warm and dry throughout summer in full sun or partial shade.
unusual to find old plantings on a slight rise above a
drainage ditch along the roadside, such as along a stretch
of Lohrman Lane in west Petaluma. Outside the fence is
safe enough since the bulbs and flowers are equally deer-
plant belladonna lilies, ignore advice about planting bulbs
at a depth three times their width. Instead, set them
with their tops at or just below the soil surface.
Winter rains provide the only water they require.
love the color and uplifting beauty usually associated with
spring, you're bound to fall for two other bulbs that arouse
the same enthusiasm as their spring counterparts. One
is a true crocus; the other is just called that.
crocus species bloom in fall in violet blues or white with
yellow centers. Most are quite small, as you might
expect, but a few (Crocus speciosus and cultivars) are as
much as 6 inches tall.
best massed together in places where you're able to see the
small blooms clearly: in pots, along edges of patios or
planting beds or within tiny-leafed, mat-forming ground
planting saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), you can actually
harvest the orange-red stigmas used in flavoring the in
dye-making. Watch for flowers to open, carefully snip
off the thin stigmas, and dry before storing.
plant, autumn crocus (Colchicum), grows from a corm, not a
bulb, and isn't really a crocus at all. There are
several species and cultivars that bloom in shades of pink,
purple and white, all with bright yellow centers. Most
mimic a classic, cup-shaped crocus blossom, but some look
like miniature water lilies.
A few have
quite large blossoms and bloom atop 8- to 10-inch-tall
stems. As with belladonna lilies, their broad foliage,
somewhat similar to hosta leaves, appears in spring for a
few months, then dies back during a dormant period in
summer. In late summer and fall, flowers appear on
buy colchicums, don't delay planting them or they'll bloom
wherever they lie. Their flowering habit could turn
into a happy accident, though, if you're looking for an
unusual bouquet for a shallow bowl.
If you do
plan to harvest autumn flowering saffron crocus, be sure you
have the right plant. Every part of colchicum, called
autumn crocus, is poisonous, so you wouldn't want to mistake
it for a saffron crocus.
colchicums are poisonous, critters leave them alone, so they
should be safe from browsing deer and burrowing gophers.
You may be
tempted to leave them alone, too, especially in summer,
since there is no foliage to indicate where they lie.
Yet, despite their Mediterranean heritage, they do benefit
from some watering during their dormancy. If they rest
in bone-dry soil or, conversely, in a constantly wet garden,
they will likely be short-lived.
*The Press Democrat,
Santa Rosa, California, Saturday, September 25, 2004.
Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening
teacher and author, writes the weekly Homegrown column for
The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910,
Santa Rosa, 95402; or fax 521-5343.