How to grow Calochortus, the novel

Jane McGary
Fri, 06 Aug 2010 19:13:52 PDT
I've almost finished lifting my entire bulb collection preparatory to 
moving it, and as regards Calochortus, I'm pleased to see that almost 
all the species I was growing have survived two unusually cold 
winters in succession, and two years of terrible predation above 
ground by rabbits. Even C. catalinae managed to survive. Very few of 
them produced flowers this year because the rabbits ate the stems, 
though C. obispoensis sent up a secondary stem with a few minute 
flowers. Frank Callahan had told me that if the leaves and stems are 
eaten for two years, the plant will die, but this has not been true. 
They're now being moved to a rabbit-free environment and I hope they 
will recover their vigor and flower and produce seeds for the 
exchanges for many more years. I grew almost all my specimens from 
seed, first from the Robinetts and later from Ron Ratko's 
collections. It takes 5 to 7 years for plants to flower from seed. 
Mature plants of many species produce stem bulbils, generally below 
the soil surface, and these are an aid in propagation.

Good drainage, moisture control, and deep planting are the key to 
growing most Calochortus species, in my experience. Some species are 
very difficult to germinate and grow on, but others are relatively 
easy. You might want to start with C. venustus, C. amoenus, C. 
amabilis, and C. tolmiei to get a nice range of the different sections.

In the new bulb house -- it is completely built, and the mason is 
putting in the sides of the 18-inch/45-cm deep raised beds in the 
next few days -- the calochortuses will be freed from their pots and 
allowed all they want of the depth of the beds, which will be lined 
with industrial-quality woven groundcloth to prevent rodents from 
entering. I expect to combine them with themids (Brodiaea, etc.) and 
irises for an extended season of flowering in the "tall" portions of 
the beds. I'm still pondering how to distribute the plants: by 
height, by season of bloom, by geographical origin, by pleasing color 
combinations (e.g., Tecophilaea cyanocrocus and Fritillaria pudica). 
Certainly moisture regime is the basic criterion, and so I plan to 
have one of the two beds drier than the other.

I have three 6-foot-tall storage shelves in the basement completely 
full of bulbs in paper bags and mesh baskets, and I hope to have them 
all in the ground before the colchicums start flowering down in the dark!

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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