PBS TOW 23rd Feb 03 - British Native bulbs and their allies

Robin Attrill Robin@rpattrill.freeserve.co.uk
Sun, 23 Feb 2003 13:38:49 PST

The native 'bulb' flora of the British Isles has very low species
diversity - due to factors including latitude, ecological isolation, and
glaciation in relatively recent times - but does contain a number of
attractive plants which, in my view, deserve a place in the garden.  In the
UK they do, however, tend to be taken for granted and are,
hence, not all frequently seen in gardens. Many are suited to naturalistic
planting, particularly in shady situations. A selection of for consideration
is as follows.

Common Bluebell (Hyacynthoides non-scripta).  A very attractive spring
flowering bulb with blue flowers on 6 to12 inch stems, particularly suited
to summer shaded sites on neutral to acid soils. White forms are frequent in
the wild and pink flowered plants are occasionally seen.  The spectacular
carpets of flowering bluebells seen in English deciduous woodlands create an
effect that is difficult to repeat in cultivation, but they do look good
when mixed with other spring flowers under shrubs such as deciduous azaleas.
The plant is easy from seed.

Snakes-Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). A local plant of water
meadows (winter wet then summer dry) in the UK where it is the only native
frit. and occurs in mixed populations of the purple and white form. Does
well in pots, but looks best when grown in grass with other bulbs. Easy from
seed and bulbs.

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). Rhizomaceous perennial with delicate white
flowers that are frequently tinged pink, and attractive ferny foliage. Does
well in damp shade. A host of selections are in commerce at reasonable to
extravagant prices. Some are expensive nonentities but the pale blue
'Robinsoniana' is a readily available and attractive alternative to the
typical wild form.

Black Briony (Tamus communis). One of the very few plants in the Yam family
that is native to the temperate regions, the enormous perennial tuber
produces annual climbing stems (several feet long) bearing glossy heart
shaped leaves. The sprays of small yellowish flowers are inconspicuous but
are followed by strings of brilliant shiny red berries which are
unfortunately poisonous. The plant looks most
effective when growing through hedges and evergreens.

Other geophytes worth considering are Scilla autumnalis, a dainty autumn
flowering species for the rock garden or alpine house, Gladiolus illyricus,
a delicate alternative to G. byzantinus, and Colchicum autumnale, a reliable
species for naturalising in grass.

A number of other species are more dubiously native but exist as thoroughly
naturalised populations in an apparent wild state.  A typical example is the
Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, believed to be introduced many centuries
ago,which is gracing its diverse haunts at the time of writing. A quite
beautiful flower, the plant is easy to establish in moist soils, tolerating
both shade and sun. Plants can be planted 'in-the-green' or as dry bulbs.
Whilst the latter can be equally successful, purchasing in-the-green (with
flower!) is judicious if selected forms are sought. A large number of
single-flowered varieties are in commerce, some of which are very good, as
are a host of double-flowered variants. I regard the latter as hideously
ugly, but many people clearly appreciate them judging by the extortionate
prices they command in the trade and the attention they receive in the
horticultural media!!!

I would emphasise that all of the above are personal choices. Some readers
may well regard some (or all!) of them as weeds. As always, in horticulture
beauty is on the eye of the beholder!


Robin Attrill

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