So often, we hear people from up north lament: "Oh, I miss the daffodils and tulips," and I must admit it makes me a little crazy. Why would you miss those when we in the south grow Amaryllis in exactly the same way? Just like the daffs and tulips, they bloom every spring, and they increase to lovely clumps over time, with beautiful flowers in an array of colors and patterns. My only beef with them is that the flowers last such a short time -- as little as a week if the weather is warm, sometimes 3 weeks if it is cooler. Agapanthus and Peruvian daffodils (not really a daffodil) are the same -- lovely while they last, but much too fleeting, and then (unlike northern bulbs) the foliage remains for the rest of the year!
My feeling is that more "bang for the buck" is to be had from the many types that keep on blooming here, often for 6 to 9 months of the year. Here are a few of my favorites:
CALLA LILIES - winter beauties!
These are the big, white aetheopica variety, not the smaller florist callas that you find in the grocery store (with which I have had no success at all). Just as most of the other tropical bulbs and rhizomes, they love water, and they will even live (although not bloom as well) in water. They do have foliage that stays year round, but it is quite lush and attractive throughout the summer when the plants are essentially dormant. The blooms appear in the cool weather, November through February, when they are most welcome, as the real tropical divas are dormant then. Mine grow in a spot that gets full sun in winter, but as the sun gets high in late spring, they are shaded through mid-day by a big clump of bamboo.
HELICONIA aka 'False Bird of Paradise'
These are great rhizomatous plants that grow quickly, spread generously, and bloom for at least 8 months of the year in my garden, as long as I remember to water them during dry spells. The key to keeping the blooms coming, as with many Gingers and Cannas, is to cut off the whole stem once a bloom is spent, which encourages the plant to put up new stems and blooms. They seem to be entirely free of pest and disease problems -- a big deal here in Florida! -- and they bloom in the dappled shade of my big oak trees with just a little fertilizer each spring. The only problem I have had with them is that they send out runners underground and may pop up where you don't want them. My neighbor says it all: "I just mow 'em." I dig up the interlopers instead, and I move them out to where they will look nice. I have four different varieties: a small, orange one about 18 inches tall, a medium-tall 30-inch variety named 'Lady Di' in red and cream, a tall orange/red that grows to 5 feet tall, and huge Lobster Claws (named for their amazing flower scapes) that are well over 6 feet tall. There are many, many more, and all of them have stunning flowers in interesting shapes and colors, mostly yellow, orange, and red shades.
What can I say about these that you don't already know? They come in a vast array of warm colors, plus creamy white, and in fabulous variegations of their leaves. They love lots of water and fertilizer, and they will wander a long way if you don't contain them! Mine bloom nearly year round, and I have every size and shape, from the lovely dwarfs that are 20 inches tall to some that grow to 8 feet or more. My current favorites are the delicate dwarf whites and yellows brushed with pink dots, which are carried by the big box stores. I have grown them in my water garden, but they are hard to restrain and they want to take over! They have beautiful flowers and even more beautiful leaves, but in humid climates the foliage is rather susceptible to a rusty fungus in the late summer. It can be kept under control, however, and just removing any leaves that are affected seems to work for me. These are my dwarf whites:
GINGERS -- saving the best for last
For variety of form and color, fragrance, and disease resistance, not to mention the ability to bloom almost anywhere, Gingers are hard to top. They truly come in all shapes and sizes: from the fabulous Hedychiums -- my favorite, 'Dr. Moy,' has variegated foliage as well as luscious, fragrant orange sherbet blooms all summer -- to the Zingibers and Kaempferias (Peacock Gingers). One sort, Costus, aka Corkscrew or Spiral Ginger, named for the spiral growth habit of the stems, is a very much underutilized plant that blooms and thrives in shade here. I have a few Curcumas, but they only bloom once per season, although the blooms do last a month or so.
My favorite are Hedychium Dr. Moy and Hedychium Butterfly, the one they use in making "Hawaiian White Ginger" perfume.
Costus scabra busting out of a pot, white Costus speciosus, and Peacock Ginger -- a low-growing groundcover with lovely leaves that blooms every morning, May through November. The flowers are mauve and white, diamond dusted, and they fade in the heat of the afternoon.
OTHERS I've been trying -- Gloriosa Lily is another favorite all-summer bloomer that starts from fleshy bulbs the size of your finger and spreads itself around nicely. It climbs using delicately twining leaf tips that are fascinating in their own right. They come in red/yellow, red/cream, orange and plain yellow flowers. A samba party every month!
Achimenes are an old-fashioned flower your grandmother probably grew, commonly known as Monkey-Face Pansy (not a pansy at all) or Monkey Flower. The bulbs are little scaled things the size of a pencil eraser, and once established in a spot they like -- shady and moist -- they come back, multiply faithfully, and bloom from June through November here. Their colors are purple, blue, white, red, rose, and pink, as well as combinations.