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Instant Summer Audience Expands for Potted Summer Bulbs
by Sally Ferguson
May 16, 2010

Women know that the perfect twist of silk scarf can catapult an ordinary outfit into a fashion achievement. There’s a joyous insouciance that prevails in such moments. Gardeners feel this thrill too -- substitute the perfect plant for the perfect scarf and you understand the appeal of summer bulbs! Placed with strategic aplomb, these sublime sub-tropical plants lend glamour to otherwise ordinary yards and gardens.

To sweeten the pot, smart garden retailers are dishing up a broader range of pre-grown summer bulbs as potted bedding plants, thus making such treasures as tufted burgundy pineapple lilies (Eucomis), shimmering black-flowered callas (Zantedeschia) and burgundy-splashed iron-cross shamrocks (Oxalis) accessible for even the most novice gardener.

Now, a new Summer Bulb Primer on  uses Flash technology to dish the dirt on top summer bulbs in an entertaining fashion. Newly-updated, is the website of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, VT. It’s a non-commercial information site filled with images and easy-to-follow how-to videos.

Here’s a quick look at the top ten summer bulbs covered in the Primer. All are readily available from garden retailers as bare bulbs or professionally pre-grown potted plants for instant color.

Begonias – Most bulb plants love sun, but begonias are shade dwellers and one of the few that bloom so exuberantly in low-light settings. Short in stature, begonias have large dense flowers with ruffled petals in rich shades of red, yellow, white, champagne, pink, or orange.

Caladium – Another shade lover, caladiums are known for colorful “painted” heart-shaped leaves in mixes of greens, whites, pinks or reds. Some are solid colored, others sport spots, flares or blushes. Caladiums can handle more sun if kept well watered.

Calla (aka Zantedeschia) – A romantic choice for bridal bouquets, calla lilies were once available primarily in white or softest pink. Today, these lovely summer flowers are also available in red, orange, yellow, rust, lavender, pale green, gold, purple and near-black. In the garden or the vase, the calla’s chalice-shaped flowers and luxurious leaves are elegant and long-lasting. Grow in full sun to partial shade.

Canna – Cannas are garden peacocks, strutting their magnificent foliage. They come in dwarf (18 to 36 inches, 45 to 90 cm ) and tall (3 to 12 feet, 90 cm to 3.5 meters) versions. Their broad leaves in shades of green, brown, burgundy, black and multicolored stripes are so dramatic that their fluttery flowers seem irrelevant. Still the flowers are an added treat, worn aloft like little cocktail hats. Grow in full sun, also suited to water gardens, if desired.

Dahlia – Razzle-dazzle dahlias are the surprise of the decade. Once pooh-poohed by the genteel set for their raucous colors and exuberant shape shifting, dahlias today are prized for these same traits. Count on dahlias to anchor the late season garden, blooming their hearts out, till frost slows them down. Plant dahlias in full sun. Cut flowers for the vase any time you like, but definitely snip off faded flowers. You’ll be happy you did, because the more you cut dahlias, the more flowers they produce.

Elephant Ears – Under this moniker three elephantine-types are pooled – Colocasia esculenta, Alocasia, Xanthosoma – all earmarked by elongated, outsized, heart-shaped leaves. These tender toughies tend to transform ho-hum settings into tropical holiday havens. Different varieties have different looks, with green, chartreuse, black or striped foliage. Their heights vary widely, ranging from 12 inches (30 cm) to six feet (1.8 meters). Elephant ears like sun, partial shade, even deep shade. Suited to water gardens, if desired.

Gloriosa – How truly odd: a summer bulb vine that pulls itself aloft by throwing tiny green tendrils from its leaf tips, its exotic flowers draped here and there like so many huge energetic spiders. Gloriosa lilies boast striking, streamlined petals so deeply reflexed they’re bent back. They are sun lovers that relish any bit of support, scrambling up a trellis or obelisk, happy to hitch a ride to another woody vine or shrub. When the flower show is over, gloriosa keep going. Their fat undulated seedpods provide garden interest well into fall. Look for varieties with red-and-yellow, orange or yellow flowers.

Lily – While most summer bulbs are frost sensitive tender bulbs, lilies are hardy perennial bulbs and can be planted in either spring or fall. They are often considered the queens of the summer garden in a nod to their regal bearing and sophisticated flowers. Many are wonderfully fragrant, to boot. Lily styles, colors and looks abound – especially now! Lily hybridizing is hitting a new peak! See the NFBIC’s  to learn more about the new, newer and newest lililes headed to a garden retailer near you.

Pineapple Lilies (Eucomis) – Certainly this bulb flower is reminiscent of the tufted tropical fruit. With its 15-inch (38 cm) spire of tiny greenish–white (or wine-colored) flowers atop a base of broad, strappy green leaves, eucomis are decidedly dramatic. As potted plants, they’re spectacular. After bloom, eucomis provides a stellar second show as its dried seed heads are often even more interesting than the original blossoms. Grown in full sun or filtered light, eucomis are stars of the mid- to late season garden.

Oxalis– Easy-to-grow oxalis looks like four-leaved clover but is much more desirable. Its low, mounded growing habit, makes oxalis ideal as an under-planting for taller plants or as a tabletop accent plant. Oxalis is prized for intriguing foliage and dainty pink or white blooms from late spring through frost. These garden-style non-invasive beauties are good luck in any garden. Look for varieties with leaves in green, purple-black or green with dark burgundy iron cross markings.

The Summer Bulb Primer on  ( ) is a stylish introduction to the top ten summer bulbs available as bulbs or potted plants, with lots of pictures and how-to videos. To learn more about summer bulbs of all types, visit the Summer Bulb Glossary and Summer Bulb sections of .

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