Plant of the Season – Autumn

Sternbergia sicula

I have to say that, over the years, I have been fairly unsuccessful with the cultivation of Sternbergia species in the open garden. I had always felt that the bulbs, despite being planted in an open, well-drained position did not receive sufficient heat and summer ripening, so often a handicap of gardening in Scotland. It was most refreshing to encounter a fine stand of the pictured Sternbergia sicula, growing in an open sunny position with acute drainage in the Rock Garden at the Munich Botanic Garden. The picture was taken in late September and, having served my apprenticeship at this wonderful establishment, I can reassure readers that the winters in Munich ensure that this plant will be fully hardy!

The species is native to S. Italy, Sicily, the Pelopponese (S. Greece), the Aegean Islands and is common in Crete. It inhabits dry, stony terrain, including grassy places and open scrub. Flowering during the late autumn in nature, it consists of a large bulb (up to 16 mm in diameter) and can be distinguished by its large golden-yellow flowers and bright green foliage appearing with or before the flowers. When planting Sternbergia bulbs add plenty of washed sand in the hole and position in an open, sunny situation. Propagation can be carried out easily by dividing up established clumps of bulbs.


Gentiana paradoxa AM 1992

Here is a gentian species that, in its true form, deserves a place in every alpine garden. A native of the W. Caucasus Mountains and first described by Albov in 1895. It is scarce in its native habitat and was relatively recently introduced into cultivation by Eric Pasche of Wuppertal, Germany, Hans-Erik Jensen of Denmark and Jim and Jenny Archibald. I remember raising material from Jim Archibald and offering it from Edrom Nurseries. The species has now become well established in gardens but has inevitably hybridised with its close relative, G.septemfida. The resulting hybrids are widely offered in the trade as plants and seed strains and are equally beautiful.

Gentiana paradoxa was given its name as it was the only species, known at the time of its introduction with leaves in a whorl of five. The plant belongs to the botanical subgenus pneumonanthe and is determined by its single un-branched stems (most hybrids are multi-stemmed) densely clothed with whorls of narrow linear leaves and solitary flowers held erect. The flowers are a clear electric blue with fine blue plicae (folds between the petals) giving a delicate fringed effect to the mouth of the corolla. Significantly, the flowering season extends through the whole of September to mid-October. It is easily raised from seed but expect hybrids when grown in close proximity to closely-related species.