'. . . Many blossoms have been born And fill the garden, row on row.'
A South-Facing border, backed by a wall, may be turned into one of the most fascinating portions of the garden, large or small, by devoting it entirely to half-hardy bulbous plants. If there is a rockery edging, or a mound or two rockeried over, here and there, facilities for cultivating countless of these rather delicate beauties will have been increased.
But, of course, many of the half-hardy bulbous plants can be used, too, to adorn beds in sunny lawns or front gardens, and be removed from them to finish off their growth elsewhere, before being stored during winter.
The Sparaxis is a plant that is often spoken and written of ignorantly, the fact being ignored that the type species, Sparaxis pulcherrima, is a very tall grower, the magenta-purple flowers often being borne 4 to 5 feet high on thin wiry stems in autumn, while Sparaxis tricolor is not more than 2 feet tall. But then scientists declare the former is not a Sparaxis, properly speaking, but a Dierama. However, I would advise all possessors of a south-wall border, or warm rock-garden, to locate Sparaxis pulcherrima in it, introducing it to friends by its prettier title of Wand Flower.
Other Sparaxises can be added; they offer gay colours, red, yellow, crimson, lemon-spotted with black, scarlet-green-and-gold, dull rose-and-indigo-black, as well as white.
This border, or the rockery spaces, must be well mulched each October, or early November, with a mixture of cinder-ashes and leaf-mould: this ought to be tenderly drawn off in spring, and some thoroughly rotten cow-manure substituted. With these precautions, half-hardy bulbous subjects will succeed, except in the worst localities.
Plant Sparaxis bulbs in September or October, 3 or 4 inches apart and 4 inches deep. Lift them after they have bloomed, dry as for Hyacinths, and replant annually.
Pot Sparaxis bulbs (Sparaxis tricolor and any other of the lesser kinds) seven or eight bulbs in each six-inch pot, from October to December. Keep the pots under glass, in the cool, covered by coco-nut-fibre refuse till growth begins. They may next inhabit a moderate greenhouse. Water slightly then, more later; dry off gradually as flowers fade, then keep in the pots until they are repotted for another season.
The Sparaxises can be gently forced by introducing them to heat when buds have formed, but forced plants should be relegated to a rockery somewhere, and fresh ones potted each year. Another merit is that the flowers are delicately scented. A familiar name for this many-tinted blossom is Harlequin Flower.
Pots of Growing Bulbs, after being Buried in Coco-fibre, in Box, In Cold Frame.
Less agreeable is the title Baboon Root for another half-hardy member of the order Iridace‘, the Babiana.
This too is a flower of numerous colours: blue, lilac, gold, scarlet, rose, red, etc., sweetly perfumed, and delightful for vase-filling. If plants are given liquid manure twice a week, immediately buds show, the flowers will be very fine and the colours extra brilliant. Outdoor planting should be done in November or December, as earlier introduction to the ground might cause too rapid development, which winter frosts would kill. Potting can be done any time from September to January; and the culture suitable for the Sparaxis may otherwise be followed. The height is about 1 foot, the leaves are silvery-green and woolly.
The Tiger Flower, Or Tigridia, deserves some of the most important positions, and if it is flowered well in a bed on a front garden lawn, visible from a road, a great deal of interest will be aroused. The marvel is that we do not all cultivate Tigridias. They are exquisite, curiously formed, strongly resemble orchis, give vivid yellows, reds, vermilion too, violet, purple, crimson and white. It has been truly said that their appearance suggests that they are hot-house subjects. The following remarks on their culture out of doors, and under glass, are borrowed from a very old book.
'This flower thrives best in a light, rich and rather dry soil, and does not agree with stiff clay, nor with poor sand. Peat should also be avoided.
'The roots should be planted in rows, 8 inches apart, taking care to leave the top of the crown uncovered with the soil.
'If it be required to have them flower early, let them be planted in pots and placed in a vinery about the beginning of February: otherwise, plant them in the open ground at the beginning of April.
'The best compost to grow them in is composed of one-third of fresh light loam, one-third of pit or river sand, one-sixth of leaf-mould, and one-sixth of rotten dung. The roots must never be planted so deep as to have the earth covering the crowns.
'In taking up the bulbs it is necessary to have them well ripened and as free from moisture as possible, since they are very liable, when out of the ground, to become mouldy and rot.
'If they are planted in a very dry light soil in front of a greenhouse, the roots may often survive our common winters without injury; but this is not to be depended upon, and therefore it is best to take them up before the setting in of frost; and if not ripe, take them up with balls, pot them, and place them in a greenhouse.'
Modern culture for the cool greenhouse requires a compost of two parts loam, one part peat, and one part sand. But I have grown Tigridias satisfactorily with leaf-mould in place of the peat that our old-world author declared was to be avoided. It is best to pot bulbs singly in four-and-a-half-inch pots, lest they damp off when grouped in more room; yet the effect of three plants blossoming in a six-inch pot is so superior that it should be tried by the ambitious cultivator.
I always 'leave the top of the crown uncovered' when potting, but not when planting bulbs out; in the latter instance I cover by dry coco-nut-fibre refuse, then by cinders, through which wet can only filter, and I give the beds a sharp slant on all sides.
Pot plants should be covered with cinder-ashes in cold frames or the cold greenhouse, and shaded from sun, then be removed to a light airy place when growth has started, and into sunshine when about to flower. Regulate the watering as usual, dry off after blooming. Then take out the bulbs, lay them in a drying spot for a day or two, then put them into string or netting bags and hang them in some attic or shed, out of sunshine and away from damp.
It is quite worth while to specialize in the Tiger Flower, growing named varieties.