Lesser-known flowering bulbs add interest to spring gardens

By Larry Sagers

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Fritillaria was one of the first plants to be grown as a cultivated flower. It grows to about 3 feet in height and produces a cluster of downward-facing blossoms on the top of the stem.

Larry Sagers

During the past several weeks, this column has been devoted to spring flowering bulbs.

After covering daffodils and tulips, now it is time to move onto some plants are less common. Some of these are easily recognized by almost any gardener, while others are a bit more obscure. All of them are planted in the fall for a glorious display next spring.

The Crown imperial — or Kaiser's Crown (Fritillaria imperialis) — is probably the best-known of the Fritillarias, but there are numerous other species.

This bulb comes from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Himalayan foothills.

It is very striking and was one of the first plants to be grown as a cultivated flower. The plant will grow to about 3 feet in height, and the stem is covered with glossy, lance-shaped leaves.

It has an unusual flowering habit as it produces a cluster of downward-facing blossoms on top of the stem. These are topped — or crowned — with a small tuft of leaves that gives the flower its common name.

The native flower is usually orange-red, but garden selections range from almost red to yellow.

It has a couple of distinctive characteristics. One is the odor. It is often described as foxy, but in my mind it is closer to skunky. It is that fragrance that gives rise to its second appeal for gardeners.

The odor helps to repel rodents, including mice, voles, gophers and even deer.

These bulbs are usually more expensive than other bulbs and require one other technique to make them grow well. The stem emerges from a depression on the top of the bulb, so turn the bulb 90 degrees from vertical when you plant it. That way the water will drain away and not rot your bulb.

There are about 100 other species of fritillaries. They have many common names and are sometimes referred to as mission bells in North America.

The next flower has a fragrance almost totally opposite of the fritillaries. Hyacinths are one of the most fragrant of all flowering bulbs. Single flowers in bloom are intoxicating, but fields of hyacinths are almost overwhelming.

This flower is also native to Asia Minor. There are three species, but only one is grown as the common or Dutch hyacinth. It was a popular blooming plant in the Netherlands, and by the 18th century more than 2,000 cultivars were being grown in Dutch gardens.

It produces a distinctive single spike of flowers in shades of blue, violet, red, white, orange, pink or yellow. The bulbs are poisonous but do not repel rodents as well as daffodils and fritillaries.

Crocus has some 80 species, all of which grow from corms. As a gardener, you don't have to worry about the difference between a corm and a bulb as they essentially grow the same in the garden.

This is a diverse group plants that will bloom in the spring, fall and even late winter. They come from a wide diversity of areas and habitats ranging from Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe and extending to western China.

This is one of the first bulbs introduced to Holland. The small, cup-shaped flowers taper off into a narrow tube. There are numerous colors, but lilac, mauve, yellow and white are the predominant ones. They are some of the first flowers to bloom in spring and generally signify winter is on its way out.

Space limits us to just one more flower. Alliums are flowering onions. The name actually is Latin for garlic. The genus includes all of the edible members related to onions and garlic and also many flowering forms.

It is a huge group and may include more than 750 species.

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