Dahlias, lilies, and colocasias are summer bulbs that can invigorate you and your landscape this summer

Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'_LR

Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ at River Banks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

For some, summer is the season for vacations. Fine, but that doesn’t mean that your landscape has to go on vacation too. You can extend the springtime pageantry of colors, flowers, and fragrances throughout the summer with bulbs. Some bulbs require a little attention, while others thrive on neglect. In this entry I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite summer bulbs.

Dahlias come in nearly every color but blue on stems that range from a foot high to over 5 feet. Their head-turning flowers range from soft peony shapes to spiky “cactus” shapes. Pom-pom dahlias produce tight balls of tiered, rounded petals, while others look like daisies or anemones. I‚m especially fond of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which grows 2 to 3 feet high with burg

Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ at Riverbanks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

undy-black leaves and garnet red anemone-type flowers. For competitive gardeners, grow the mammoth “dinner plate” dahlias with 6 to 9 inch wide flowers, such as ‘Thomas Edison’‚ (purple), ‘Kelvin Floodlight’‚ (golden yellow), or ‘Garden Wonder’‚ (red).

For looks and fragrance I turn to lilies with flowers that come in several colors: red, yellow, orange, pink, lavender, cream, white, and purple. They range in height from 1 to 6 feet. For starters I recommend Asiatic lilies, Easter lilies (you planted your potted Easter lilies outside, didn’t you?), and the late summer to early fall-flowering Formosa lilies that bear fragrant, off-white funnel-shaped flowers in a candelabra-like display.

Pineapple lilies, particularly ‘Sparkling Burgundy‚ with its intense reddish-purple leaves, has been a reliable performer for me. With anticipation I look forward to the miniature purple pineapple flower bud rising a foot or two high and watch it open gradually to reveal a a spike of white flowers.

Crinums or swamp lilies are the quintessential summer bulb for southern gardens. In the spring bold green leaves sprout from underground bulbs (some attain the size of grapefruits) to create a fountainlike haystack of straplike leaves. In the summer clusters of lilylike flowers appear on three foot tall stalks in colors that range from white, pink, or striped (“milk and wine lilies”).

Crinum 'Cecil Houdyshel'

Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ at Riverbanks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

Several common varieties include ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (red), ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ (deep pink to red), and C. x powellii ‘Album (white). The Orange River lily (C. bulbispermum) is well-suited for wet areas (“hog wallows”); it blooms in the Spring and sporadically though the summer and fall producing white, pink or striped flowers.

More hard-to-find cultivars worth seeking out include the purple-leaved ‘Sangria’ with deep wine-pink flowers and ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge’ with large pale pink-white flowers with a darker central stripe to each lobe. Depending on the cultivar, crinums may bloom one time or sporadically throughout the season. To see these and hundreds of other crinum species and hybrids, visit Riverbanks Garden in Columbia, SC.

Summer bulbs cultivated for their big, bold leaves include the elephant ears or colocasias. Growing three to five feet in height, these cultivars are grown for their colorful stems and leaves: ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Blue Hawaii’, ‘Hawaiian Eye’, and ‘Lime Aide.

For an eyecatching accent plant, conversation piece, and quick summertime shade, grow Jack’s Giant Elephant Ear. This colocasia introduced by Jack de Vroomen of Greenwood, SC, reaches a height of 7 feet and produces umbrella-sized leaves with wavy margins.

These are just a few of the many summer bulbs that will invigorate you and your landscape without having to take a vacation.


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