Monday, March 2, 2009

Maintaining winter sanity with indoor bulbs

After 2 weeks of increasingly warm temps, I had lulled myself into believing that spring was on its way. Of course, Mother Nature slapped me back to reality as I awoke to peals of laughter and “Snow Day!” echoing through the house.

As if to make a small peace offering, my Freesia did begin to bloom and the fragrance has excellent restorative powers. I have always loved forcing bulbs indoors, having grown up in New England I have found the need to creatively garden indoors during the long winter months. Bulbs are an excellent way to surprise yourself, bring a little extra something to your normal repertoire of houseplants. There are the usual casts of characters, most often grown for the Christmas season: Amaryllis (the choice of colors and shapes is staggering), Paperwhites (the easiest of the Narcissus for indoor blooms), Hyacinths and so on. And for the most part, if you tire of them, toss them when they are done. But this year is the first time I tried Freesia and I have not been disappointed.

For anyone who has bought Freesia for cut flowers, the fragrance is sweet but not overpowering like Narcissus “Ziva”. The foliage is nothing to write home about, and it takes 3 months to bring newly planted bulbs to bloom (similar to Amaryllis), but my patience has rewarded me with 2 dozen stalks of Freesia blooms in varying states of bud swell/bloom. And I will therefore survive a few more weeks of winter. The trick to forcing Freesia is to be sure your newly planted bulbs get LOTS of sun and not too much heat. I would think grow lights would be perfect, but I put mine in a south facing window, and watered them nearly every day. The cultivar I selected is Freesia “Volante” which is a double form, and although it was purported to be white I think the blooms are more ivory or cream. I planted up 3 pots, with 8 or so bulbs in each (Freesia bulbs are small reminding me of Allium caeruleum) and they are leggy, I keep turning the pot to lean against the window. I have never been fond of staking, but it could be laziness.

Veltheimia bracteata is a tried and true indoor bulb, which I treat as a houseplant. Unlike most bulbs the leaves remain viable year round, and it is quite long lived which means annual blooms without the challenging extra step “winterizing”. And they are excellent glossy green leaves, similar to Amaryllis but with a softer wave to them. In fact, when I first received this bulb (about 15 years ago), I thought it was an unusual Amaryllis and treated it very similarly. Planting with the top third of the bulb above the soil, growing in medium light (East facing window), and put it outside in the summer, keeping it in dappled to low light, and initially I did “Winterize” it like Amaryllis but later found it unnecessary. It seems to like infrequent repotting, there are now 4 bulbs in 1 pot and the blooms have become more reliable when crowded (like Clivia). My fertilizer regimen is sporadic, but I have top-dressed the soil. This beauty has a funky bloom, which starts in February (when very little is happening!) and lasts 4 to 6 weeks. Is anyone else growing this sleeper? If so, I’d love to hear stories of success, or challenges. I would definitely recommend giving it a try, the only common name I have heard used is “South African Cape Hyacinth” which is too much of a mouthful and could be very misleading as it is not like a Hyacinth!

…now where did I put that Snow shovel?

6 comments:

Marion said...

Indoor bulbs! Why didn't I think of that?! I guess my excuse will have to be that I am only a few years in to my gardening hobby and haven't quite gotten there yet.

The way I've been looking forward to spring here in upstate NY is ordering my gardening supplies. I went and put in my order for fertilizer at the local IGA, then I ordered my Woman's Work women's gardening gloves. I especially like these because they have a ventilated back and very tough fingertips. I gave away my last pair to a friend who was leaving for England, so now I need a fresh pair. Being an optimistic type, expecting early sun, I also ordered a new gardener's sun hat (after the dog developed a taste for raffia!)...

RainGardener said...

Great idea. The picture of your garden header is beautiful!

Cory Alexandre said...

Thanks! The garden in my header is one I designed about 15 years ago, but the photo is July 2008. It is excellent to be able to watch your designs mature and have them enjoyed!

Outside In said...

I also have a Cape Hyacinth, also called forest lily. It has one blooming stem left so far, I purchased it in Febuary and already has another bulb growing on the side of the pot. You have a great blog, I mostly grow Tropicals, Dwarf Trees, Annuals indoors during the winter months.

Cory Alexandre said...

So glad to hear you are growing a Velthemia too! The blooms last for ages,and it is not fussy at all. I hope you get as much joy from it as I have! Thanks.

manoj said...

Indoor grow lights
Cool! Good blog! I'll mention it in my next blogpost and it'll turn up on my new blogroll.