Autumn Blooms in the Bulb Garden

It’s now early fall and that means it’s time for Colchicum! Colchicum is a group of flowers also known as autumn crocuses, though they’re not related to the true crocus. Seventeen species and varieties of Colchicum grow in the Graham Bulb Garden. Flower colors range from white to magenta-violet, and include doubles and bicolors.

PHOTO: Colchicum cilicum.
Colchicum cilicum

Colchicum blooms are a great way to brighten up the early autumn landscape. They’re best grown in a groundcover or as an underplanting for taller bulbs such as lilies (Lilium sp.). The spring foliage can be rather large and hosta-like, making them sometimes difficult to pair with smaller spring-blooming bulbs such as Scilla, but it makes them perfect for hiding bare stems of tall plants in the summer while providing a jolt of color to your beds just before everything goes to sleep for the fall.

PHOTO: Colchicum 'Antares'.
Colchicum ‘Antares’

PHOTO: Colchicum x agrippinum.
Colchicum × agrippinum

In addition to the crocuses, dahlias and lilies are still bursting forth with color, like jewels in the September garden. The cooler temperatures help create richer colors in the dahlias, and longer-lasting blooms, while their large size provides a contrast with the dainty blooms more typical of fall bulbs. We’re still seeing the final blooms of Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’ as well. This lily is notable for being the latest-blooming lily in our climate. These plants started blooming in early September and are still holding on. Due to their late blooming nature, these beauties must be planted in the spring in a well-drained but fertile area. 

PHOTO: Lilium speciosum 'Uchida'.
Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Bahama Mama'.
Dahlia ‘Bahama Mama’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Diva' and Salvia guaranitica 'Argentina Skies'.
Dahlia ‘Diva’ and Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentina Skies’

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Jitterbug'.
Dahlia ‘Jitterbug’

While these might be the last blooms of the season in the Bulb Garden, this certainly isn’t the end of interesting things happening in the Chicago Botanic Garden. Fall foliage color will be peaking soon, and winter holds its own interest in the colors of berries, dogwood stems, and the exfoliating bark of the birches against snow’s white blanket.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Late summer comes to the Bulb Garden

One should never assume that this late in the season we are done with blooming bulbs—that simply isn’t the case. There are still plenty of bulbs blooming their hearts out! Summer annual bulbs like dahlias, cannas, and begonias are still blooming like crazy, and several unusual perennial bulbs are just starting their show.

PHOTO: Bulb Garden path.
Annual bulbs such as Dahlia help carry the Graham Bulb Garden through the summer.

Lycoris have many common names—surprise lily, magic lily, naked ladies, and several more—which allude to the fact that these flowers spring forth from bare ground with no leaves in sight. (They leaf out in spring without blooming and then go dormant; blooms appear in fall as a single stalk appears from the bare ground where the bulb resides.) There are currently two species blooming in the Graham Bulb Garden. Lycoris chinensis has beautiful golden-yellow flowers, and Lycoris incarnata has pale pink flowers striped with magenta, giving it the common name of peppermint surprise lily. 

PHOTO: Magic Lily (Lycoris chinensis)
Magic lily (Lycoris chinensis)
PHOTO: Peppermint surprise lily (Lycoris incarnata)
Peppermint surprise lily (Lycoris incarnata)

Autumn squill (Scilla numidica) is a rarely-seen relative of the spring blooming Siberian squill (Scilla siberica). It features soft pink wands of flowers that will gently reseed to form a colony.

PHOTO: Autumn squill (Scilla numidica).
Autumn squill (Scilla numidica)

Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’ is a hardy relative of the ever-popular florist alstroemeria. The yellow-and-orange blooms begin in July and persist for weeks. Just like their cultivated relatives, these make excellent cut flowers.

PHOTO: Alstroemeria 'Sweet Laura'.
Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’

The shadier parts of the Bulb Garden aren’t being left out this late in the season, either. Annual bulbs such as Begonia ‘Million Kisses Honeymoon’ and Caladium ‘Raspberry Moon’ help light up a dark area under the crabapples (Malus ‘Selkirk’). And containers spill over with a cascade of blooming bulb varieties.

PHOTO: Bulb Garden path.
Begonia ‘Million Kisses Honeymoon’ and Caladium ‘Raspberry Moon’ light up the right side of the path, while wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) helps hide the bare stems of the lilies on the left side.

 

PHOTO: Container garden featuring a mix of bulbs.
Bulbs even work in containers! This container in the Bulb Garden features a mix of annuals: Scaevola aemula ‘New Wonder’, Lantana ‘Little Lucky Red’ and Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’ with a pair of smaller-scale bulbs, Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ and Oxalis adenophylla.

There is still a lot going on in the Bulb Garden, and there is still more to come!


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Summer Bulbs

Spring is done and we’ve finally moved into summer bulb season! The annual beds have been replanted with sweeps of dahlias, cannas, caladium, and begonias to showcase these nonstop workhorses of the summer garden.

PHOTO: Caladium plantings under the crabapples.
Caladium bicolor ‘Raspberry Moon’, Begonia ‘Million Kisses Honeymoon’ and Cretan brake fern (Pteris cretica) light up the shade under the Selkirk crabapples.

PHOTO: A raised planting of caladium and begonia under a tree offer a chance to sit in the shade.
Caladium bicolor ‘Miss Muffet’ and Begonia × tuberhybrida ‘Illumination White’ make a great pairing for shady areas.

On the perennial side of things, we’re moving into lily season. The very first lilies to bloom are the martagon lilies (Lilium martagon) and their hybrids (such as Lilium martagon ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’). Martagon lilies are terrific plants for the shade garden because they provide both structure and color at a time when little else is blooming in the shade. The leaves emerge in a layered whorl, giving the plants a pagoda-like structure. We’re also moving into Asiatic lily season with the first of those beginning to bloom in bold shades of pink, red, yellow, and orange. 

PHOTO: The orange blooms of a martagon lily poke up through a bed of hosta.
Lilium ‘Nepera’ is a vibrant orange martagon hybrid that lights up a shady corner.
PHOTO: Foxtail lilies poke up from a planting of bayberry.
Pale yellow foxtail lilies (Eremurus ‘Lemon Meringue’) provide a fun summer surprise when planted among shrubs such as this bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).

In addition to the lilies, we’re also seeing some unusual bulbs such as Eremurus ‘Lemon Meringue’ in bloom. Eremurus have tall, bottle brush-like flowers that add an exotic flair to the garden. Smaller alliums such as Allium tanguticum ‘Balloon Bouquet’ and Allium senescens do not have the giant flower heads of their springtime relatives, but still provide a welcome change of pace from the more common flowers of summer. 

PHOTO: Asiatic lilies just beginning to open.
The Asiatic lilies are just starting to bloom in the sunnier areas of the garden. Photo by Bill Bishoff.
PHOTO: Lilium 'Sterling Star'.
Lilium ‘Sterling Star’ Asiatic Lily. Photo by Bill Bishoff.
PHOTO: Lilium 'Red Velvet'.
Lilium ‘Red Velvet’ Asiatic outfacing lily. Photo by Bill Bishoff.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Year in Bulbs: Part Three

In just over a month, we’ve gone from having only a handful of small blooms to a lush display of thousands of blooms in every shape and size. Thanks to several warm days, the annual display beds pushed forth to be in their prime just in time for Mother’s Day last weekend.  

PHOTO: Sweeps of tulips line the winding paths of the bulb garden.
Sweeps of tulips line the winding paths of the Bulb Garden.

Those warm days also meant the end of the main daffodil season, leaving us with just a few of the late-blooming varieties such as Narcissus ‘Dickcissel’, a unique jonquil-type daffodil with dark yellow flowers and a white cup.

The real star of the late spring garden though, are the tulips. As if by magic, more than 5,000 tulips in our annual displays started blooming overnight. Doubles such as Tulipa ‘Orange Angelique’ and Tulipa ‘Foxtrot’ add unique texture alongside bold colors like Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ and Tulipa ‘New Design’.

PHOTO: Narcissus 'Dickcissel'.
Narcissus ‘Dickcissel’ is consistently among the latest-blooming jonquils in the Bulb Garden.
PHOTO: Tulipa 'Queen of the Night' and Tulipa 'Orange Angelique'.
Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ and Tulipa ‘Orange Angelique’

In addition to these showy giants, there are more subtle species tulips adding pops of color throughout the garden. Tulipa batalini ‘Apricot Jewel’ adds spots of warm yellow to lighten up a planting of dark-leaved Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Camassia leichtlinii, and Allium aflatunense. These species tulips are often better perennializers, making them great additions to the garden, as long as they’re protected from rodents.

In addition to all these big, showy bulbs, there are many that require a closer look.

This bed might look like it’s mostly perennials, but if you stop and look you’ll see a sweep of Fritillaria acmopetala and Fritillaria uva-vulpis, along with a groundcover of the tuberous Anemone ranunculoides, and several varieties of Narcissus.

PHOTO: Fritillaria acmopetala.
Fritillaria acmopetala
PHOTO: Fritillaria are sprinkled amidst other spring bulbs under a ferociously blooming pink crabapple tree.
They might be hard to see from a distance, but this bed contains dozens of Fritillaria, each with a unique pattern.

We’re currently experiencing elevated lake levels, which gives us an opportunity to show that there are at least a couple of bulbs that will survive standing water for a period of time: Bletilla striata and Camassia.

PHOTO: Bletilla striata.
Bletilla striata
PHOTO: Camassia leichtlinii blooming though flooded.
Camassia leichtlinii can handle seasonal flooding without any issues.

Bletilla striata is a hardy ground orchid native to China and Japan that is very tolerant of saturated soils during the growing season. (However, it should never be allowed to sit in water in the winter.)

Camassia are native to the Pacific Northwest and naturally grow in wet meadows. This makes them a terrific bulb for gardeners who experience seasonal flooding or have areas with poor drainage. The tall blue spikes of flowers provide a welcome dose of color after your main spring bulbs are finished blooming; the plants also are long-lived.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Year in Bulbs: Part Two

Things move quickly in the bulb garden in the spring!

In three weeks, we’ve already seen the “little blue bulbs” (Scilla and Chionodoxa) come and go, the first of the species tulips burst forth with color, and the foliage fill out, creating a rich, green backdrop, allowing the flowers to shine. Even with our cold spring, we’ve already had a month of flowers—which goes to show just how tough these plants really are. We’re on our third flush of flowers while many other gardens are still just waking up for the season.

PHOTO: A view of the south path, dotted with the blues and reds of scilla and tulips.
The south path on April 21, showing the last of the Scilla and Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’

The little blue bulbs are making way for the most popular and well-known of the bulbs; the daffodils (Narcissus) and hybrid tulips. We’ve also got many types of Fritillaria, Corydalis, and Muscari adding unique colors and forms to the display. The foliage is filling out, creating a lush oasis of green in an otherwise still-dreary spring.

PHOTO: A view of the south path, now filled with narcissus.
The south path on April 30—note how the Scilla and tulips have given way to Narcissus, with many more flowers waiting to burst forth
Photo: A combination of differently-shaped blooms in purple and white make a beautiful contrast.
Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’ and Muscari aucheri ‘White Magic’
PHOTO: Closeup of Muscari 'Pink Sunrise' blooms.
Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’

Look closely as you walk along the paths, and you’ll see many unique flowers, such as several varieties of Erythronium and Fritillaria of all different sizes and colors.

PHOTO: A closeup of Fritillaria imperialis 'Aureomarginata'.
Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’
PHOTO: Closeup of Erythronium hendersonii in bloom.
Erythronium hendersonii

On May 1, we had our first Meet the Horticulturist for the season. I had the opportunity to lead a group of visitors around the Graham Bulb Garden and highlight some of the most unique and exciting things in bloom. Some visitor favorites included Corydalis varieties with their jewel-toned flowers and soft cushions of blue-green foliage; the cheerful spikes of blue, white, or palest pink Muscari; and dwarf Iris ‘Evening Shade’, which is a new hybrid Juno iris, with a unique growth habit, that looks very much like a miniature corn plant. Another plant that really wowed the visitors was the variegated crown imperial fritillary (Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’).  

Meet the Horticulturist events are a great way to get a more in-depth view of some of your favorite gardens. We’ll be featuring four more throughout the summer, with various other gardens as the highlight. Come talk with us!

PHOTO: Narcissus in the Bulb Garden.
Narcissus are just starting to put on a show.

PHOTO: Closeup of dwarf Iris 'Evening Shade'
Iris ‘Evening Shade’


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org