Plant of the Month – October, 2007
Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I’d be the last gardener to ever specialize in one plant. My favorites and whims change seasonally like my garden, but I have one love that has been with me since I began gardening: Bulbs! I LOVE them!
The very first plant that started my path into horticulture was a jonquil. I still remember helping my mother transplant them from my great grandmother’s home place in East Texas. Offsets from those first few bulbs have followed me to every place I’ve lived and every garden I’ve tended. I’m sure you’re thinking “so, Jimmy, what’s your favorite bulb?” I have to have one, right? Wrong. I love them all, even the ones I can’t grow!
So what is it about them I love so much? Well, there is just something about planting a small, earth-colored object and next spring a full-grown plant pops up! It’s like Jack’s proverbial bean stalk: magic! That same magic still enthralls me as much today as it did those many years ago, and it’s one of the reasons I love my job at the Dallas Arboretum. Where else could I get to plant a half-million of these jewels ever year?
We all know the “big three” bulbs: tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Then there are the so-called “minor” bulbs: crocus, muscari, ipheion, leucojum and such. Many of these smaller bulbs are great perennials for Texas.
Then there are those, like freesia, that I would love to grow, but unfortunately, only survive in those parts of the world that we Texans visit for vacation, like Seattle and Vancouver. One good breath of hot Texas wind and they curl up and die. But Freesia laxa is different. This diminutive bulb from South Africa was supposedly tolerant of heat and humidity. So I took a friend’s advice and planted the tiny 1/2-inch corms in the front of my perennial border.
I was surprised a few weeks after planting them in late October, when the 6-inch, grasslike leaves appeared in my border. Those leaves continued to grow and produce new sprouts throughout the winter. Even when the temperatures dropped to the mid-20’s, the foliage was still there.
Then in late March, 12-inch spikes with multiple flowers of an unusual color of red-orange began to appear. Each flower was marked like a pansy with a darker face in the center of bronze-red. Every bulb shot up multiple spikes and the flower show lasted 6 to 8 weeks, much longer than most bulbs, and they were scented.
The foliage lasted up until about July, then turned brown, curled up and fell off. But that October, it came back twice as thick and a few actually reseeded. Now this plant had my attention. By the way, this was eight years ago, and they are still going strong!
For many years I’ve given a few of these bulbs away to friends, but couldn’t find any to buy. Finally I can say that they are available to all of us! My good friends at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia now carry this great plant for Texas. You can find them on their Web site at www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com. Also, I’ve found them from a Texas mail-order company, Yucca Do Nursery (www.yuccado.com).
Plant F. laxa in full sun in regular garden soil. I’ve found they perform best planted in the flower border instead of un-watered areas of the lawn. The foliage will quickly appear after planting, but make sure to label where you put them so in summer when dormant you won’t dig them up by accident.
To see this plant and many others, visit the Dallas Arboretum at 8525 Garland Rd., Dallas. For more information visit www.dallasarboretum.org or call (214) 515-6500.
About the author: Jimmy Turner is the Director of Horticulture Research at the Dallas Arboretum. For more plant profiles by Jimmy, subscribe to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine.