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Making the most of summer bulbs

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Summer bulbs like Eucomis add colour to the garden all season. (Photo Credit: jazonz via Flickr)

In spring, hardy bulbs like crocuses, snowdrops and squills pop up everywhere, followed by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Planted in the fall, these flowers have waited all winter to herald the sunny days of spring. Now that spring is under way, why not make the most of the summer bulbs that are available in stores to have colour in the garden all season long.

Summer bulbs differ from hardy bulbs because they aren’t able to withstand harsh winters. Either you start with a new batch each year, or you must dig the bulbs out in fall and store them over the winter, to be replanted again the following spring.

The advantage of using these plants in the garden is that they provide a long season of colour and come into their own later in the summer when many perennials are spent. They can be grown as container plants, incorporated in a border along with perennials and shrubs, or grown in a bed on their own as an attractive focal point.

Many gardeners are familiar with tried-and-true favourites like dahlias and gladioli. While these are beautiful, there are many other types that are just as easy to grow. In a gardening climate like we have in Atlantic Canada, it’s best to start them indoors in pots and transfer the plants to the garden once all danger of frost has passed.

A few suggestions:

canna lilyCanna lilies are showy, heat-loving plants that add height, colour, bold foliage and a touch of the tropics to any garden. Start the rhizomes indoors in pots in a warm area and transfer them to the garden once all danger of frost has passed. City of Portland has rose pink flowers with green leaves, Wyoming has pumpkin-coloured flowers with dark foliage, and Black Knight has crimson flowers with dark bronze foliage. Cannas bloom from late July until first frost.

crocosmia-120Crocosmia (Montbretia) grow from a bulbo-tuber similar to gladioli and have yellow, orange or red funnel-shaped flowers about an inch long, similar to freesias. The leaves are flat and sword-shaped. These plants do well in beds and borders in full sun, with moist well-drained soil. They make wonderful cut flowers for bouquets and arrangements.

pineapple-120Eucomis (Pineapple Lily) is native to South Africa. This plant grows about two feet tall and has a rosette of leaves topped by a spike of white, green, cream and pink flowers that look like skinny pineapples. They make gorgeous container plants and add an architectural interest to the garden.

acidanthera-120Acidanthera (Peacock Orchid) is native to the tropics and South Africa. The plant has sword-shaped foliage and fragrant white flowers with purple throats, which are borne in loose spikes. Plant the bulbs in moist, well-drained soil in full sun.

calla-lily-120Zantedeschia (Calla Lilies) have elegant, trumpet-shaped blooms in shades of pink, white, yellow, burgundy, red and orange. The leaves are shaped like arrowheads, and many have white markings. Grow callas in moist soil in full sun to light shade. They make great container plants.

colocasia-120Colocasia (Elephant Ears) are grown from large bulbs and result in dramatic, heart-shaped foliage that can be up to three feet tall. They can be used in borders or on their own in large containers as well as in ponds. Jet Black has dark burgundy leaves that are almost black in colour.

Try at least one of these this season and you will no doubt be hooked on summer bulbs!

Marsha Middleton is a landscape designer, garden consultant and horticulturist who lives in LaHave, Nova Scotia.

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