Filling your sunny garden with colorful flowers in the spring is relatively simple with the many choices of daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and all the rest of the fall-planted, spring-flowering bulbs. During the summer months, the perennials mature into colorful specimens decorating the garden while summer bulbs like dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, gloriosas, and crocosmias add to the amazing kaleidoscope of color. In the past, it wasn’t unusual for us to have a month to six weeks between the ‘spring sensation’ and the ‘summer splash’ when our gardens needed a boost: Something to bridge the gap between the two flowering seasons. We think we’ve found several ideas!
Camassia is a bulb that the Native Americans used as a food source and one that helped keep Lewis and Clark alive during their expedition across the United States. It was said that when food became scarce, an Indian woman named Sacajawea dug camas, cooked and served it to the two explorers. We’ve never eaten camassia, so we can’t comment on its taste, but the beauty of the flowers is breathtaking. The colors of camassia range from white to light blue to dark blue – perfect colors for almost any garden! Their leaves are linear and their flower spikes are filled with lots of starry flowers.
Camassia are very adaptable to a variety of garden situations. We have them in our flower border but they also grow in damp meadows and at the edge of ponds. Camassia quamash ‘Blue Melody’ has variegated leaves which enrich the beauty of its dark blue flowers and makes it a real eye-catcher in the garden before, during, and after bloom. The flowers of the white, double form, C. leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’, have sterile flowers that helps them to last longer, which is a real plus. However, all of them including the pale blue species, C. cusickii, and the darker blue species, C. quamash, are amazing ‘bridge flowers’ and are winter hardy in zones 3-8.
Eremurus (fox tail lily) is another ‘bridge flower’ that actually stops traffic when they are in bloom in our garden. Tall spikes of tons of white, pink, yellow, or salmon starry florets add flash and flair to the waning spring garden. The bulbs look like an octopus and are planted a couple of inches just below the surface of the soil. Eremurus also requires a very well-drained site and a very dry summer dormancy.
Alliums come in many sizes, shapes and colors. Although they all don’t bloom at the same time, most bloom in late spring or early summer – perfect timing to be part of the ‘bridge’. The taller types with their tennis ball to softball-sized lavender to white flowers add a statuesque quality in the garden. Some that do particularly well are Alliums christophii, nigrum, and schubertii. A. christophii is a loosely formed cultivar with little starry shapes compressed into a silvery amethyst softball sized flower. It tolerates a bit of shade and looks amazing, while surprising onlookers coming up in the middle of a bed of hosta. We’ve had visitors ask the name of the hosta because they wanted one with flowers like that one!
A. nigrum has silvery, grayish white softball sized flowers that bloom with our peonies and Dutch iris. Because of its color, it can bloom with anything and look glorious, even to the person with the finickiest ‘must-go-together’ taste. It has been a wonderful perennial for us. A. schubertii is probably the most ‘out-of-this-world’ allium in our garden. Its lavender flowers are often volleyball sized, airier than most, and although they usually grow only 1-2’ tall, they are a real eye-catcher.
One other amazing thing about alliums is their flowers make interesting dried flowers as well. We often leave them in the garden to dry naturally. Sometimes a big wind comes off the river and the dried flowers of the alliums are tossed around like tumble weeds, which is great ‘action’ in a flower border. They also are great in dried arrangements.
There are many possible options for ‘bridge flowers’ to keep color and beauty in your garden between the spring and summer flowering seasons. With the choices stated here, there are many varieties, shapes and colors from which to choose! What an exciting possibility and another reason to have a garden party to introduce your gardening friends to your new flowering season where you ‘planted bulbs and are harvesting smiles’!
By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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