January 14, 2012

The Winter Windowsill - Rare Bulbs


Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor

CULTURE- Easy as Papewhite narcissus. Purchase bulbs in autumn from specialist bulb catalogs, and some Dutch bulb catalogs. Plant in a professional quality potting mix ( like ProMix by Fafard), or a fast-draining soil mix ( 1/3 gravel, 1/3 perlite, 1/3 compost or loam), water well once, and set on cool, bright windowsill or on a bench in a cool greenhouse which does not freeze. Bulbs emerge in a few weeks, and will produce two to three leaves per bulb. Floral scapes appear shortly after. Provide the brightest light possible ( a sunny, bright window that becomes cooler at night, or the sunniest spot in your greenhouse.

Lachenalia aloides var. Nelsonii

Related to the common hyacinth, the plant grows in much the same way, but without the fragrance. Lachenalia were once popular in the late 1800's, but fell out of fashion when indoor heating eliminated those rooms often found in large turn of the century homes, and farm houses which were not heated. Many flower enthusiasts are rediscovering these easy-to-grow South African bulbs for winter windowsill collections. Look for them next Autumn when you order your Paperwhites, and try something very different.


Romulea komsbergensis


We can thank Romulus for this rather odd name for plant which is neither a crocus, nor truly anything 'Romulus-like', for according to plantsman and authors Peter Goldblat and Robert Manning authors of many find monographs of plants found in both South Africa ( and particularly those found within the genus Iridaceae, the Iris family) - the name Romulus simply came from the fact that one species within these genus grows in and around Rome, and we have Linnaeus to thank for that, way back in 1760. Linnaeus, is the Swedish botanist who essentially invented and introduced botanical latin, which we all still use today.

Romuea are not common at all, or at least in bulb collections beyond only the geekiest of bulb collectors ( ahem). I will admit that they are quite boring when not in bloom. If new to Romulea, you think that you made a mistake, and that grass started growing in all of your containers,  but wait -  for that winter  day, when the sun is low and weak, for romuleus to arrive (if only briefly, and only when the sun is at it's highest point and bright around noon - the large floral buds reveal even larger, crocus-like striped cups with a complex color structure, sometimes so complex that  a camera cannot capture the jewel tones very well. Sadly, the simple Romulea is destined for obscurity, for nobody really grows them in any number, and perhaps they shouldn't, for  there are far better bulb plants, so don't be meslead by the close up photo. I would suggest the we leave them mother natures garden, and visit them on  the  winter rain soaked velds and vernal seeps of the Cape area of South Africa, where left to own role amongst the grasses and other bulbs, it flourishes in large sweets.  Only appreciated by a lonely Baboon, who may take a second glance at their beauty, in only so briefly before tearing out the sweet corm from which it grows, as a snack.

Stenomesson pearcei

A rare bulb from Peru and Equador, I am please to say that this bulb has proven sturdy enough for me  have it in bloom three times this year. The experts will tell you to never plant mature bulbs, for they will never bloom, and, to never repot them for they will sulk for at least three years. My bulbs not only sat out on the bench for three months, after I forgot to plant them, I repotted them twice this year.  But then again, I wonder exactly how many Stenomesson pearcei 
experts there really are out there? 

Ornithogalum fimbriatum

Alpine form of  Star of Bethlehem


  1. Beautiful photos!
    My first visit here, I will be back for more some other time :-)

  2. Just beautiful! Can't wait to try some of these!

  3. You have the most beautiful pictures--I just started a blog called "A bouquet from Mendel" about plants that are edible or pharmaceutical, and your blog is really an inspiration to take more care with the beauty of the plants and not just their utility.

  4. First-timer on your blog - thanks for the wealth of information!

    My family and I recently moved into a home with a good rectangular area right outside the living room window for flowers... or shrubs... or mulch (if I'm feeling uninspired and lazy!). Originally, I planned on sowing some Morning Glories but, having experienced their crazy growth in the past, am a bit weary of how much time I'll have to invest in their upkeep.

    The Cape Hyacinth looks like it would be awesome... thanks for the inspiration and great photos!

  5. Welcome Helene and Suzanne! Always glad to hear from new readers/followers! If you have any questions or ideas, please share, hope you enjoy your visits.



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