Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2005
Regional Report

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Zephyranthes candida bloom in profusion after rain.

Bulb Combos

Pastel shades of yellow, pink, lavender, blue, and white provide a respite from the intensity of desert sun and heat. Bulb combinations are one way to create this soothing color scheme.

Rain lilies, also known as fairy lilies (Zephyranthes spp.), are a low-maintenance bulb. The common names refer to their flowers appearing magically like fairies after rain showers. White Z. candida and pink Z. grandiflora bloom reliably, and the bulbs multiply quickly and profusely. I haven't had as much success with yellow Z. citrina, but I divided a clump recently to spread them to other growing areas, so we'll see what happens.

Rain lily foliage is a slim, bright green stalk like a succulent grass. It grows about 6 to 8 inches high in the low desert. Given supplementary water on a regular basis, the foliage will remain green much of the year. This makes them a useful choice for "understory" in a bulb garden as they provide green when other things are dying back. I also like planting these tiny bulbs as a border because they soon fill in as a continuous line of green, like a mini hedge. On the other hand, the bulbs will also survive an extended dry period. They die back but foliage shoots up as soon as water is applied.

Freesias grow about 8 to 10 inches tall with funnel-shaped flowers in white, pink, purple, and yellow. Some species have incredible fragrance. Dutch iris blooms in shades of white, yellow, and blue. They grow 18 inches tall, with slender foliage stalks that die back completely. Both make great cut flowers.

For fabulous tall pinks and whites, plant amaryllis. Some folks buy half-priced Christmas decor after the holidays; I grab those boxed amaryllis bulbs for a dollar or two. I enjoy them in the house while they bloom, let the foliage die back and then plant them outside. They perform beautifully outdoors, flowering year after year.

To fill in the gaps and cover up when bulb foliage dies back, I underplant with low-growing annuals such as alyssum, lobelia, and verbena to continue the color scheme. I also really like greys and silvers as an understory against the pastel colors. Lamb's ears, santolina, or short, feathery artemisia are choices. Watch the watering, though. Their roots don't like excessive moisture, so it can be some trial and error to regulate water needs with bulbs.

Finally, an unusual choice for filler is the spring-blooming Mexican poppy (Eschscholtzia mexicana). In the wild, this flower's color varies from yellow to gold to orange, although there are selections now available in creams, pale yellows, and pink. What I really like is the finely cut, bluish green foliage. Its feathery texture provides a contrast to the mostly upright stalks of bulbs. With the extra water and nutrients poppies absorb in the bulb bed, they form a mound 12 to 18 inches high and wide. The drawback is that they dry out quickly into a straw-like tumbleweed as temperatures heat up.

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