Spring Bulbs

April is our traditional month for planting spring-flowering bulbs. However, judging from the frequent sea mists rolling through the Heads and the last few days of Indian summer, the earth is still too hot – but no doubt it will soon be cool enough to get busy.

Babiana Photo: Charles Stirton
Photo: Charles Stirton

Bulbs have been dearly loved by gardeners for centuries – many of the names of Northern hemisphere bulbs, like anemone, hyacinth and narcissus, have their origins in Greek mythology. After long, dark, cold Northern hemisphere winters, the first flowers of spring lift the heart and bring joy to the soul. No wonder Wordsworth was inspired to write a poem about ‘…a host of golden daffodils…fluttering and dancing in the breeze…’ Tulips, long associated with Holland, provoked a collecting ‘tulip mania’ in the 1630s when they became coveted luxury items and the bulbs changed hands at exorbitant prices.

Sparaxis Photo: Charles Stirton
Photo: Patrick Lowe

Our own spring-flowering bulbs like freesias, babiana, ixia and sparaxis have been collected by botanists from Europe since the late 1770s, and commercial hybrids are now popular in many countries. As so often happens, our bulbs, except perhaps for freesias, have not been as appreciated in their own country. Most are easy to grow, prefer well-drained soil and full sun, and look wonderful massed together in large groups. Sparaxis, with its jewel-like multi-coloured flowers, often with a contrasting yellow centre, are particularly rewarding.

The only major problem we experienced concerned the babiana we had planted in our Tokai garden in Cape Town. These were just starting to flower – gorgeous blooms from purple and violet to light blue – when a troop of hungry baboons came down from the mountains. Summer fires had devastated their usual food sources, so by the end of winter they were hungry and down they came to the valley below to hunt for food. Imagine their delight at discovering one of their favourite corms in our garden – obviously called bobbejaantjies for a reason! And imagine our dismay! Thank goodness bulb planting is less traumatic on Leisure Isle!

By Leonie Twentyman-Jones