By Sean Conway
Many gardeners remember to plant spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus in the fall but often forget to plant summer-blooming bulbs, corms and tubers when spring arrives.
Summer bloomers such as fragrant oriental lilies, colorful gladiolas or late-season dahlias are some of the most reliable plants for the garden. Mail-order suppliers provide the best selections, and early spring is the time to start thinking about placing orders.
Summer blooming bulbs can be added to a mixed border as a way to extend the blooming season once the flush of spring perennials passes, or they can be planted in groups away from other plants for a pop of color.
As is the case with their spring blooming brethren, there are many different types of summer blooming bulbs. Some begin their floral display early in the season, others in midsummer, and still others such as dahlias, which are tubers, will continue blooming right up until they are knocked down by frost.
Lilies, the queen of bulbs, are by far the most popular of the summer bulbs and for good reason. They are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Some have outfacing flowers, some pendant and others upward-facing.
Oriental lilies are the type most of us are familiar with thanks to their large flowers, intoxicating fragrance and sturdy stems. The variety Casa Blanca, with its pure white flowers and green stamens, is a hardy bulb that when planted in full sun and well-drained soil will return year after year, improving with age.
Well-established Casa Blanca lilies can produce flower stalks reaching upwards of 6 feet with multiple blooms that open over the course of two or more weeks.
I grow them in a bed by themselves, but they also can be planted in a mixed border. Blooming in August when other plants in the garden are gasping from the summer heat, their sweet perfume seems to hang in the air, especially during those warm summer evenings when we all spend more time outside.
Asiatic lilies, while not fragrant, can provide your garden with a vibrancy that few flowers can match. Bright star-shaped blooms in shades of orange, peach, yellow, red, white and pink begin blooming in early in summer, and help the garden transition from the cool pastel colors of spring into the warm colors of summer.
The variety Landini is one of my favorites, but the color is a bit of a departure from other Asiatic lilies. This mysterious looking lily has dark maroon flowers on 2- to 3-foot stems, adding a bit of drama to the garden. A perfect foil for lighter colored flowers, they thrive in either full sun or partial shade. They never fail to elicit comments from garden visitors.
Other summer bulbs may be less well known than lilies, but no less deserving of space in the summer garden. Consider planting the beautiful star-shaped Camassia, which comes in a variety of shades ranging from creamy white to light blue to a deep violet.
Another summer bloomer not often planted is Lycoris squamigera 'Naked Lady,' sometimes called "surprise lily" because flower stalks emerge from the ground after the leaves die back. Lycoris are slow to establish, but well worth the wait.
After you have finished browsing your seed catalogs, don't forget to peruse a bulb catalog or two. When the dog days of summer arrive your garden will be awash in color.
Sean Conway's book is "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.
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Copyright ©, Cultivating Life by Sean Conway