"Signs of spring"

Spring is here!
Sunday, 31 August 2014     

Green paddocks and blue skies on the Southern Tablelands of NSW

The last few weeks of winter in Sydney have been pretty bleak this year. Whilst it was absolutely wonderful to get the rain that started to fall on 17 August, several hundred millimetres later it was starting to wear a bit thin! All I craved was some blue sky and some warmth from the sun. I was fortunate enough to escape from soggy Sydney for two days this past week, into the Southern Tablelands of NSW, where though there has been some rain lately, the sun was shining. The paddocks were green and there were signs of spring everywhere, even though this region is significantly colder than Sydney.

In the garden of the family farm, spring bulbs - mostly planted by my grandmother more than 70 years ago - are a highlight. They survive our neglect and relish the cold winters: which this year saw temperatures plunge to -7 degrees Celsius some nights. Over the years, I have found it instructive to compare what bulbs thrive in this garden compared to my own Sydney plot and it has helped me understand the best choices for these two distinctively different climate zones. Whereas in Sydney I have always struggled with daffodils, at the farm these grow effortlessly in robust clumps, unmistakably shouting 'Spring is here!'. These bulbs definitely seem to need winter chill and summer baking - our Sydney summers are usually too wet for their liking and our winters too warm. However, I have had luck at home with some tiny little daffodils that someone gave me years ago in a pot from a florist - possibly 'Tête-à-Tête'. They have multiplied over the years to a nice clump and appear in mid to late August. I also have had success with one called 'Silver Chimes', which blooms every year but hasn't increased much over time.

There are literally hundreds of jonquils in the farm garden, ranging in colour from pure white, through cream to the bright yellow and orange 'Soleil d'Or'. They exude a delicious perfume throughout the garden. These bulbs I can grow in Sydney, though they tend to flower in mid winter rather than late winter/early spring here.

Similarly, snowflake bulbs (Leucojum aestivum), in full bloom at the farm last week, are past their peak in my Sydney garden now (hastened in their decline by the torrential rain); however, they are a reliable bulb in our climate as well as doing well in cold areas. Interestingly, a taller version called 'Gravetye Giant', given to me by a keen plant collector years ago, flowers later and stands up nice and tall, unlike the species, which tends to flop. They are a good choice for shady spots though will also cope with sun.

The winter iris (Iris unguicularis, syn. Iris stylosa) is a rhizomatous plant that flourishes brilliantly in cooler climates yet languishes in my Sydney garden - I probably get about five flowers a year. In the farm garden, there would have been easily 100 blooms or more, and it has only just started flowering! I have a lovely white version growing at home, which rarely blooms, so I decided to donate it to the farm garden and look forward to it doing much better there.

Another cool climate bulb that simply refuses to bloom in Sydney is the grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) - it has the most stunning blue clusters of tiny-bell-shaped flowers, and my grandmother used to pick huge numbers of them for vases. I have tried them many times in my garden but they are not happy, so now I content myself with admiring them in the farm garden, where they grow like weeds.

Freesias were just about to bloom at the farm and these I can grow at home - all too readily it could be said. However, I would never want to be without their lovely spring fragrance. The original cream-coloured one does best, but in recent years I have had quite a good pink one that stays upright instead of falling over like many of the coloured ones.

I have introduced some bulbs to the farm garden, with mixed success, over the years. It has only been in recent times that I have realised (courtesy of information from a reader who lives in the same region) that rabbits were digging up and eating the bulbs after I had just planted them. I now have rabbit-proof fences around the garden beds and the bunnies have been thwarted. Once the bulbs are well established, the fences can possibly be removed. Last week, the starflower bulbs I planted there were in full bloom. These pretty bulbs are now called Tristagma uniflorum but were previously known as Iphieon uniflorum. They are amongst the first bulbs to flower in late winter in my garden and come in colours of pale, milky blue, purple, white and bright blue. They multiply happily and require no special care.

I'd love to hear which are your favourite bulbs for this time of year - no matter where you live!

 Reader Comments

1/14  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Sunday, 31 August 2014

Tomorrow, being the first day of spring, has made its mark. My beautiful iris"s are out in flower. They were rescued from a derelict garden. My white freesia"s are in flower. Mum used to grow snowflake bulbs,(though she called them snowdrops)here many years ago, but they have vanished. I am still waiting to see what flowers arise from some other rescued bulbs. I would love to grow jonquils, but do not know if they would grow here in Brisbane. Thanks for the lovely spring photo"s. Good to know what grows in Brisbane, Chris. Would be good to hear if anyone in Brisbane grows jonquils. Maybe planting them quite deeply could work? Deirdre

2/14  Chris - 3340 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

Over the years I"ve planted many bulbs, many have simply disappeared while others have happily thrived and naturalised into large drifts. First to flower in mid winter are the Nerines. At the moment I have Star flowers, Erlicheer and Paperwhites with just a few King Alfreds. Just about to explode are masses of cream Freesies. I tolerate their invasiveness because I love the perfume. This year I have experimented with Watsonias ans miniature Gladioli, but they are just leaves at the moment. Sounds like you have lots of lovely bulbs in your garden to herald spring. Hope that the Watsonias and mini Gladioli do well. I have them in my garden but they flower a bit later is spring. Deirdre

3/14  Chris - 3340 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

I forgot the sweet little Grape Hyacinth !

4/14  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

I have tried various daffodils in my garden, but they don"t enjoy our climate. Have not had success with Gravetye Giant, Muscari, I. unguicularis or Dutch iris. Jonquils thrive, as do freesias, snowflakes, tall bearded iris. I have a pot of English bluebells, and these flower every year. Currently, I have a number of Sparaxis and Watsonias in bud, and the Hippeastrum "Papilio" in bloom. Hyacinth have lasted three years, but that is about their lifespan in my garden. It is great that we can still grow so many great bulbs in Sydney. That Hippeastrum is gorgeous. Deirdre

5/14  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

i love the little red and yellow Lachenalia, L. quadricolor,which grew profusely in my childhood. Now, stil in Sydney i can"t get it to grow successfully. I"m sure that Grape Hyacinths flourished back then too. At least the Snowflakes are still happy. Sue I have not seen the Lachenalia for years either. Glad your snowflakes are doing well! Deirdre

6/14  Margaret - 3777 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 01 September 2014

Like Sue, I love the L.quadricolor, but have no success at all in my country garden, even though they bloomed profusely for my father-in-law 30+ years ago in the same garden. I have tried them for the last 4-5 years - this year I put them in pots and had a little success with germination, but none has shown any signs of progressing to the blooming stage. Of course, the pot being tipped over by a possum last week hasn"t helped ......I"d love to know how to get them to grow and flourish. It is strange about them not growing now yet flourishing in the same garden years ago. I have never had any luck with them. I hope you will have success with them. Deirdre

7/14  Jan - 2582 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

We have daffodils and jonquils, snow flakes and poppy anemones cheering up our garden already. The real champion right now is the almond in full flower - glorious. Glad to hear that you are winning the battle with the rabbits! Thanks, Jan, Your advice was very helpful to me! Deirdre

8/14  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

For thirty years, three varieties of daffodils have flowered and multiplied in my garden NW of Sydney. They were recommended back then by the Dept. of Agriculture to do well in Sydney. They are:- MAGNIFICENCE, all yellow flowers in June; PTOLEMY, white petals and yellow trumpet, in July; and FORTUNE with yellow petals and orange trumpet, in August. There are now hundreds. I have miniatures in window boxes. Thanks for the names of those daffodils, Pam - will look out for them. Deirdre

9/14  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 01 September 2014

It is fascinating how we can continue to learn about plants" adapatablity in different situations even after gardening for a long time. every season is an adventure! In bloom now in my frost free tas garden - single & double daffodils, snowflakes, jonquils , blue bells just coming up. Spring seems to be late this year ( perhaps as it has been so wet BUT my Louisiana iris ( from Heather Pryor) are earlier than last year & are about to flower too. Your garden must look very pretty with those bulbs in bloom. Deirdre

10/14  Diane - 4075 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 01 September 2014

It would be very helpful if the comments by members always mentioned what part of the country the contributor was gardening in so one can know if the comments are relative to their situation. I live in Brisbane.
I have just added the climate zones for postcode areas after seeing your comment above - hope it helps. Deirdre

11/14  Florence - 4070 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 01 September 2014

The climatic zoning where people live is next to their name, and is the most relevant indicator. I live in Brisbane (11b), so a bit warmer/wetter than Sydney (10b). Brisbane is a happy home to plants grown in Sydney, except for any bulbs (but freesia), and everything (from buds to fall) is about 2-3 weeks ahead. Luckily The Compulsive Gardener is there to remind me of the jobs I should attend without further delays! 1 question about Rozanne geraniums: Shouldn"t they be coming out now? Thanks Rozanne here dies right back in winter; it has not come into leaf yet and will flower in about October. It might be more advanced in Brisbane? Deirdre

12/14  Nikki - 7325 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 01 September 2014

Amazing how different our climates are and the effect it has on gardening. Here in Tassie, I find Daffodils are almost a weed and seem to be taking over. I had black plastic down with mulch stored on it for at least 6 months. When I pulled it up this week, I had a mass of bluebells growing under it - looking a bit yellow but fully recovered after 2 days in the sunshine. I envy you your daffodils growing like weeds! The bluebells sound very resilient! Deirdre

13/14  Helen - 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

I really love bulbs.........in other peoples" gardens! I have lived where they flourished, but lifting them and storing them was a pain. Leaving in the ground was OK, but then every time I dug I always managed to slice a a few bulbs in half! I congratulate gardeners who can lovingly nurture their bulbs. Thank you, Deirdre, for your ever stimulating start to my week. Helen. It is true that it can be tricky gardening around bulbs. I do not lift and store any of mine so I only grow ones that are tough and can survive in the ground. Deirdre

14/14  Richard - 2112 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 01 September 2014

I planted a number of varieties of narcissus 15yrs ago, and the one that really took off was the jonquil Erlicheer, which has gone from half a dozen bulbs to litrally hundreds, and provides fragrant blooms for the house for 2 or 3 months! The various spring South African bulbs have done well, as have the Spring Stars (Tristagma), Snowflakes, Lycorus, Bearded Iris, Hippys, Ornithogalum, Belladonna, and the paintbrush lillies (both genus). Many of the daffodils have not lasted in my Ryde garden. Yes, I agree Erlicheer is a great jonquil! Interesting about the Ornithagalum - I never had success with them; maybe I should try again. I usually give things three chances! The South African bulbs are mostly excellent for Sydney and multiply very well for us. Deirdre

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