First fall bulbs

Jane McGary
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 18:52:15 PDT
After an unusually hot summer punctuated by equally unusual 
thunderstorms (including a massive hailstorm about 6 weeks ago), the 
first fall bulb flowers are appearing in Portland, Oregon. A week ago 
Colchicum kotschyi flowered in the bulb house; it is usually the 
first one to appear. Colchicum macrophyllum followed in a few days, 
still in the bulb house although I keep meaning to get it and its 
massive spring foliage out of its fairly moist corner and into the 
open garden. Today a row of little tessellated colchicums opened in 
the bulb lawn, which is now the dry brownish turf that you get if you 
leave grass to its own devices in this winter-wet, summer dry climate 
-- the winter-growing grasses overwhelm the summer-growing ones in a 
few years, and the former go dormant in summer despite weekly 
watering. Colchicum 'Innocence', formerly called C. byzantinum 
'Album', appeared under a Douglas fir in company with Ceratostigma 
plumbaginoides, which I hope will form a ground cover for a bed 
planted with colchicums for fall and daffodils for spring. Also under 
the Douglas firs, and one of the few plants that will grow there, is 
Cyclamen hederifolium, mixed white and pink. I also spotted the first 
flowers on Cyclamen hederifolium subsp confusum, a particularly strong pink.

Acis autumnalis, the autumn snowflake (formerly in Leucojum), is 
widely grown and is showing up here and there. It is almost weedy in 
this area so it's mostly coming up through mat-forming plants such as 
penstemons, thymes, and so on; some are among the "black mondo 
grass," Ophiopogon planiscapus f. nigrescens, which is particularly 
pleasing. Even more pleasing is a close relative of the autumn 
snowflake, Acis valentina (or valentinus; I'm not sure what gender 
has finally been decided on for Acis, which as a common noun is 
feminine in Greek, anyway). A. valentina is slightly more robust than 
A. autumnalis, and the cup-shaped flowers are pure white rather than 
flushed with pink at the base. I had a pot full of seedlings when I 
moved here three years ago. It lost its label, and I misidentified 
the bulbs as Galanthus and popped them into an ordinary perennial and 
shrub bed. They have proven very hardy (we had temperatures in the 
mid-teens F last winter, twice) and enjoy the well-mulched clay soil. 
I must remember to lift them next July and spread them out.

Amaryllis belladonna has not deigned to bloom (as usual) but it did 
survive the winter. Someday I hope it will pop up its naked stems, 
silhouetted against a wall now becoming clothed in the pretty 
patterned leaves of Parthenocissus henryana. Two of its close 
neighbors also survived despite my lack of optimism: Iris 
unguicularis, which appears able to grow anywhere, and Alstroemeria 
isabellanae, a plant that has entered commerce here recently. I think 
the latter is Brazilian, so it gets summer water and flowers in late 
summer, much visited by hummingbirds. It spreads underground and pops 
up here and there through the mat of Parthenocissus foliage.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA}

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