Thursday, 5 May 2011

Camassias...

We have long enjoyed the beauty and benefit of naturalising bulbs in grass. Those early spring favourites, snowdrops, crocus and daffodils have been the staple of such displays. The lengthening grass serving to effectively hide the bulb foliage as it dies back.

There is increasing interest however in extending this flowering meadow effect. As intensive agriculture and modern farm practice leave less and less space for wild flowers, it is becoming fashionable to create a more naturalistic look in the garden. 

European style ‘prairie plantings’ are at the forefront of this design movement. Here, the more vigorous herbaceous perennials are released from the cosseted environment of flower borders and introduced to rougher grassland. The results can be quite beautiful in a larger landscape setting and economically, the low maintenance regime is another part of the attraction. 
While we may not be ready quite yet to go to such extremes, there are lessons to be learned for all of us. If nothing else, it shows us the way to become more adventurous in our smaller scale ‘mini-meadow’ plantings.
‘Camassias’ may be the way ahead here as the various species will lengthen the flowering season through May and into June. They are bulbous plants whose original home was North America, though conditions here suit them well enough. From a rosette of grassy leaves their single flower spikes shoot up to a height of about two foot. Each one holds up to a hundred star shaped blooms opening from the bottom upwards. From pale china blue to deeper blues, violet blues and even a few forms in white, each spidery petalled flower has an array of contrasting golden yellow stamens. 
They make a striking feature amongst longer grass, and may begin to naturalise if conditions suit them. But even if you have neither the room nor inclination for flowery meadows, they make for an equally eye catching border feature.
Bulbs, bought and planted in the autumn would be the best way to introduce Camassias to your garden. Then, if, after a few years they thrived and you built up a surplus, you could always thin them out by eating some... To native North Americans they were a super sweet delicacy. You may not want to go to the trouble of cooking them though, as pit roasting for up to three days was the preferred method of preparation! 

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