As perennial favorites, hardy bulbs are unexcelled at providing sudden swaths and splashes of vibrant color, whether in the open garden or in containers. And that goes for summer as well as spring (and fall and winter!).
Consider the lilies, for example. The voluptuous, richly hued blossoms of these fleshy-bulbed perennials are just the thing for alleviating the dullness that sometimes descends on the post-spring garden.
Early summer welcomes the typically flat-faced, upright, freckled blooms of the Asiatic Hybrids, which flower in warm hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, as well as white. Numerous narrow leaves clothe their sturdy, 1- to 4-foot stems. Hundreds of Asiatics have been introduced over the years, including the famed ‘Enchantment’, whose orange, dark-speckled blooms still frequently appear in bouquets.
Arriving somewhat later, the Oriental Hybrids carry the delicious fragrance and rosy-or-white, purple-flecked, often gold-emblazoned coloration of their two primary parents, Lilium speciosum and Lilium auratum. The large, waxy, bowl-shaped flowers with slightly backswept petals open on 2- to 4-foot stems, which are rather sparsely set with relatively broad, green to blue-green leaves. Nodding to outfacing flowers are the rule, but some cultivars have semi-erect blooms (including rose-red, white-edged ‘Stargazer’).
Trumpet Hybrid Lilies
Blooming alongside the Oriental lilies (but usually above them, on 4- to 6-foot stems), Trumpet Hybrids are noted and named for their huge, spicy-scented, funnel-shaped blooms. Notable selections include the African Queen Strain, which flowers in various shades of cantaloupe-orange. Prone to toppling because of their colossal proportions, Trumpets often need staking (or a sheltered position) to keep them upright. In recent years, the Trumpets have been interbred with the Oriental Hybrids to create a popular new class of showy-flowered hybrids, the Orienpets, which add to their usefulness by having flop-resistant stems.
Among the many Lilium species well worth growing are Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon) – which has parented some beautiful hybrids of its own – and Eastern North American natives such as Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum).
Whether species or hybrid, most lilies do best in full to partial sun and a fertile, humus-rich soil. Or grow them in deep containers fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend. Unfortunately, all lilies have two potentially mortal enemies: viruses and the dreaded red lily beetle. Many hybrids and species shrug off viruses, but all are red-lily-beetle-susceptible, and any lily planting in a beetle-infested area will need protection, either by hand-picking or by spraying. Releases of parasitic wasps in Rhode Island have resulted in dramatic local reductions of red lily beetle numbers, so there’s hope that this bête rouge will soon make its exit.
Lovely and varied as they are, lilies are far from the only valuable hardy summer bulbs. Other worthies include the following bulbs for summer.
Crocosmia hybrids, with long, curving midsummer spikes of dazzling, often fiery-hued blooms that attract hummingbirds. Although hailing from southern Africa, these sun-loving perennials include a few hybrids hardy to USDA Zone 5 (such as the smoldering orange-red ‘Lucifer’). Plant their crocus-like corms in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.
Several species of Lycoris, East Asian bulbs which bear clusters of fragrant amaryllis-like blooms on tall, naked stems that magically arise in mid- to late summer. Far too rarely seen in gardens or catalogs, hardy Lycoris are most often represented by the lilac-pink-flowered Lycoris squamigera. Other showy hardy species include gold-flowered Lycoris chinensis; creamy-yellow Lycoris caldwellii; white Lycoris longituba; and white, rose-striped Lycoris incarnata. All produce strap-shaped leaves in spring, which die back months before the flowers appear. Hardy Lycoris remain almost unknown in American gardens, despite numbering among the most beautiful summer-blooming perennials. Their narcissus-like, fleshy-rooted bulbs store poorly, contributing to their obscurity. Purchase freshly dug or container-grown bulbs, and plant them in good soil in full sun or light shade.
Numerous East-Asian species of Arisaema, the genus that also includes Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Their hooded inflorescences range from bizarre to beautiful, and their spoked or lobed, compound leaves are often equally remarkable, and sometimes gargantuan. Perhaps the queen of the tribe is Arisaema candidissimum, which in early summer sends up a large, ivory-white, green-streaked hood surmounted by an enormous, broadly three-lobed leaf. The flowers cast a faint, sweet scent. These Asian Jacks tend to want more sun than the native, and less winter moisture. Mark the places where you plant their tubers; they may not break ground until late June.
A host of ornamental onions. In most cases, summer-blooming alliums grow from slender, scallion-like bulbs and have persistent, grassy leaves (unlike the early-dormant spring-blooming species). Lovely but little-known summer alliums abound, including Allium ramosum, a white-flowered beauty which blooms earlier and self-sows much less rampantly than the otherwise similar garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); Allium togashii, an August-blooming pixie with bright lilac-pink heads; and the elfin, blue-flowered Allium sikkimense.