Monday 26 June 2017

Beautiful blues of spring bulb

Plant camassia, a cousin of the bluebell, in clumps or in a wildflower meadow
Plant camassia, a cousin of the bluebell, in clumps or in a wildflower meadow

Gerry Daly

Camassia looks like an overgrown bluebell, which is not surprising because it is related, although bluebells are native and camassia is from North America. In some ways, camassia is made for this country because it likes relatively cool weather and damp soil. Its natural habitat is in water meadows by streams that flood occasionally.

The camassia or quamash flowers in late spring and early summer, making it a good follow-on from the earlier spring bulbs. It looks like a tall blue lily with small flowers. The colour is generally blue, though there are white forms, too. It can be quite tall, over one metre though usually less. So it makes quite a striking sight.

The native tribes of the western coastal region of North America used camassia as a food staple. The bulbs were collected when the tops could still be seen, well into late summer. They were roasted at a fire and provided a dry meal-like flour. The largest bulbs were taken to eat and the smaller ones re-planted.

The tall blue flowers of camassia, like those of bluebells, set off the fresh green, bronze, coppery tones and acid yellows of late spring and early summer to perfection. The rich blue is sometimes lost against the green if there is some shadow on a sunny day - but, when noticed, it always comes as a pleasant surprise.

It is best planted in conditions that approximate to its native habitat - in damp meadows and long grass. And while it likes to be grown in damp soil, that may be occasionally flooded, it prefers some drainage and does not like to be wet constantly.

It dies away in summer, the leaves withering. When planting, the bulbs should not be dotted about but placed in groups as they would appear naturally. Grown as single bulbs, the flowers look somewhat lost.

Camassia can be planted in a wild flower meadow lawn or it can look really beautiful when planted with ornamental grasses. It looks well with some yellow or orange Welsh poppies nearby, or the yellow-green flower heads of euphorbias.

The colour range is only blue and white, but there are many shades of blue from pale blue to violet blue.

The bulbs are not that widely sold because they have a tendency to dry out in transit and on the shop shelf, just as bluebells do, but camassia bulbs are offered for sale in autumn.

At this time of year, garden centres sell the bulbs already in flower and it is possible to choose your preferred colour.

How to water my new hedge?

Q Later this month, I will be planting 4ft-high Portuguese laurel hedging (potted) topped off with a permeable membrane and bark mulch to prevent weeds. I know new plants need watering until they get established. Will the mulch restrict water access to the plant roots?

A The mulch will not impede water, but you would be best advised to set up a little drip-irrigation set, if the hedge is more than a few metres, or you can hand-water until they are rooted with good growth. The mulch will break down on the membrane and create a compost for weeds.

Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie Questions can only be answered on this page.

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