Bulbs for Shade--TOW

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Mon, 19 May 2003 12:33:55 PDT
Mary Sue has mentioned a few good bulbs for shade and here are some others:

Cyclamen purpurascens is good if you can get it established, but it is the 
northernmost species and, I think, does not do so well on a Mediterranean 
climate cycle as C. hederifolium and C. coum do. Another that gardeners on 
the West Coast of the US should try is C. graecum. It is usually described 
as not very winter-hardy, but it's sun-tolerant, has wonderfully marked 
leaves, and has survived temperatures in the mid-20s F in my bulb frame. 
I'm going to put some on the rock garden this summer and see what happens. 
It is particularly easy to grow from seed. Others grown outdoors here are 
C. repandum (which likes shade) and C. cilicium. I expect C. pseudibericum, 
which has huge bright flowers, would do well in California gardens--and one 
sees C. persicum everywhere in California, so why not grow some of the 
typical species from seed (they're very fragrant and much more graceful 
than the floppy commercial forms).

Leucojum aestivum and L. vernum are normally grown in sun in this part of 
the USA and require a retentive soil; they rarely flower for me, and never 
in shady areas.

Calochortus albus, which is available commercially, often grows in shady 
spots in the wild.

Among California lilies Mary Sue mentioned L. maritimum, which is extremely 
habitat-specific and probably hard to obtain even as seed, and L. 
pardalinum, which is a good doer almost anywhere and one of the few lilies 
that can cope with burrowing bulb-eaters, having an extensive, rhizome-like 
bulb with many loose scales that will renew it after attack. Some handsome 
cultivars of L. pardalinum are available. It needs a rich loose soil to 
wander in. The spectacular L. washingtonianum is a plant of coniferous 
forest margine, but it is extremely difficult to grow outside its native 
range, including elevation--it is seen primarily above the long-term winter 
snowline, on very steep, rocky slopes.

If you happen to have deciduous shade, many of the larger narcissus will do 
well there, especially the cyclamineus hybrids that flower early. I started 
planting daffodils in the woods because I heard it would help protect them 
from bulb fly, and I have many clumps still flowering after 12-15 years 
with little or no attention.

Jamie mentioned Hyacinthoides campanulata (Spanish bluebell) as "less 
invasive" than English bluebell (H. non-scripta), but most of us  in the US 
West find just the opposite. I' ve heard that some varieties sold through 
Dutch bulb catalogues may be hybrids between the two species. H. 
non-scripta seems better adapted to shade.

Trilliums hardly need be mentioned, and for the Mediterranean climates that 
are our concern, the western American ones do much better than the more 
numerous eastern species and the rare-in-cultivation East Asian ones.

No shady spot in a bulb-lover's garden should be without snowdrops 
(Galanthus), and it is worth exploring the genus beyond G. nivalis to find 
species that do better in warmer climates.

Erythroniums: mostly woodlanders, and the western species are adapted to 
dry summers, except for the alpine E. montanum. They are difficult to 
obtain as bulbs because the bulbs don't store and ship well, but quite easy 
to grow from seed, flowering in about 4 years. The most popular in gardens 
are E. tuolumnense, a rapid multiplier, and E. revolutum, bright pink, but 
E. helenae and E. multiscapoideum are good in warmer areas too. E. 
revolutum is a plant of cool conditions in Oregon's coastal mountains. E. 
hendersonii, lavender, is from the Siskiyous and better adapted to dry 
periods. In the garden many erythroniums hybridize among themselves.

Many fritillarias are said to grow in woodland and scrub, so if you have a 
lot of some species (F. affinis is my candidate) you could try them there. 
All, however, are vulnerable to the slugs and snails likely to be hiding in 
the shade.

Muscari: the invasive species (M. armeniacum, M. azureum) are best treated 
as a ground cover under trees and shrubs, where their floppy foliage will 
not cause problems. You can interplant them with Ajuga or some similar 
controllable groundcover to help conceal the dying leaves of the Muscari.

And if you have a BIG space in shade, put in some Cardiocrinum giganteum, 
unless you feel about it as the great bulb grower Faith Mackaness did. I 
always remember her telling me, in her old-fashioned Louisiana accent, "I 
have always thought it is rathah VULGAH."

And even bigger, veratrums (though often seen on open alpine slopes) also 
do well in shade. I have V. californicum in fairly deep shade here, and it 
flowers regularly. It is not grown for the flowers, but for the handsome 
"architectural" foliage.

These are just a few of the bulbs that do well in shade in my garden, where 
summers are cool though dry. I have a sprinkler system on the woodland 
"garden" (really a mess) for the sake of the rhododendrons. In hotter 
climates, even more species should prefer shady situations.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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