Sunday, December 18, 2016

Spring Starflower

Note: I'm slipping in a few recent photos from the garden in these bulb posts, to break the monotony of walls of text.  They have nothing to do with the post content, but I think they're better than nothing!

{Unknown clematis}

Last time I wrote about planting some hardy gladiolus (gladiola? gladioli?) because I'd read about their history of long success in Southern gardens.  They weren't the only bulbs I'd been keen to try-- but (so far as I've seen) these are not the kinds of thing you normally find in stock at your local big box nursery, so when I decided to place an order, I scratched a few more things off my garden wish list.

I'm not sure why they don't stock these plants in the same places that sell at least a handful of other types of common garden bulbs-- for instance, hybrid gladiolus, amaryllis, daffodils, and grape hyacinths.  Is it because relatively few people know what these plants are (i.e. they're not "in style" at the moment)?  Possibly some of them are considered inferior to larger, showier plants...  I can also imagine that for the very most casual gardener, bulbs are not big sellers.  A bag of bulbs doesn't hold much beauty, save to the eye of experience and love. ;o)

Goldenrod in December

One of the bulbs I've been wanting to grow is an old-fashioned favorite-- Ipheion uniflorum, common name "spring starflower".  Ipheion is an excellent pass-along plant, but those of us who don't know anyone growing them have to order them.  (They may be difficult to source locally, but these days there are numerous places to buy them online.)

These are diminutive plants with small flowers in spring-- one per stem, but multiple stems per bulb each spring.  The foliage is grassy and not particularly noteworthy.  In fact, the whole plant can be easily overlooked, if they aren't planted en masse-- or are hidden by taller plants-- or are in the garden of someone too busy to stop and look and enjoy the little things.

Good things about spring starflower:
--Tolerates a wide range of soils and is generally easy to grow.
--Can get by on relatively little water.
--Often multiplies quickly/naturalizes by bulb offsets and self-seeding.
--Comes in a small variety of colors (white, pale blue, violet-blue).
--Is fragrant (described as "sweet violet", "mildly spicy", "honey-scented").
--Can be grown in the lawn for a wildflower meadow effect.
--Flowers last a good long time (weeks) before fading.
--Deer- and rodent-resistant.
--Bloom early in spring.
--Survives over a wide range of hardiness zones (5-9 or 10).
--Works as a cut flower.

Umbrella Palm
{Umbrella palm}

Spring starflower bulbs are inexpensive. Since you'll probably have to order them, shipping/handling adds to the overall cost, but the bulbs themselves are very reasonably priced.

Ipheion has gone through numerous name changes over the years.  Some will remember them as Triteleia-- and they may still be sold under that name.  Apparently there's been recent argument over whether it should be called Ipheion or Tristagma.  (Ugh, plant taxonomists.  Just get over yourselves, okay?  Choose a name and let it be.  No-one but you really cares, anyway.)

I planted my spring starflower bulbs here and there throughout the garden on the western side of the house, where they'll get lots of sun and well-drained soil.  I put most (if not all) of the species (Ipheion uniflorum) in the new bed-- the Oval Bed or whatever I'll end up calling it, over the field lines.  (This is one of the many plants that won't interfere with field lines.)

Mexican Heather
{Mexican heather}
The species is the cheapest type, though the named varieties are very affordable.  The flower colors "range from pale white to violet-blue".  (...Look, don't ask me how "pale white" differs from "white", because I can't tell you.  I'm just quoting from a supplier's website. (g))

I planted a few other varieties of spring starflower, too, here and there:

'White Star', as you might imagine, has white or nearly-white blooms.  I've seen photos where these small white flowers seem to glow, and they also look beautiful mixed in with the blue/violet starflowers.

'Rolf Fiedler' is described as "bright, periwinkle blue".  Photos show this variety as having wider, more overlapping petals than the species or 'White Star' for a more circular-shaped bloom.

'Jessie' is marketed as the darkest blue of all Ipheion, described by some as gentian blue.

If you plant different varieties near one another, they are said to hybridize themselves and produce interesting color variations.

Spring starflowers are an early-spring treat I'm already looking forward to seeing in my garden for the first time.  Just a few more months!

Zéphirine Drouhin Foliage, December
{foliage, Zéphirine Drouhin}