Plant of the Season, Summer

Rhodohypoxis baurii cultivars, ‘Pictus’, ‘Albrighton’ and ‘Fred Broome’

As the current summer continues to impress both north and south of the border, I am taking careful note of certain trends in the garden. One such trend is the way that Rhodohypoxis species and cultivars have prevailed due to a series of mild winters and favourable summers, allowing ripening of the bulbs/corms. I well recall during my formative years as a gardener and later nurseryman, that a stern winter with modest snow cover would decimate bulbous species, both in containers and in the ground. I lost my entire commercial stock of Rhodohypoxis in 1982/3 and was very fortunate to know the late Valerie Finnis and obtained stocks of all the recognised cultivars raised by Mrs Ruth McConnel. No such fears of devastating frosts in recent years.

As is so well documented by Richard Wilford in his excellent volume “Alpines, from Mountain to Garden”, 2010, Rhodohypoxis are among the most popular cultivated geophytes (bulbous plants) from South Africa. He continues, “This is a genus of low-growing, starry-flowered perennials in the family Hypoxidaceae, which is centred on the Drakensberg Mountains. They can bloom for several months in the summer and die down completely for the winter”. Six species have been recognised, along with a whole host of cultivars, many of which have appeared on the scene in recent years and still await a home in my garden. It is important to observe something about their habitat and the prevailing weather conditions. In nature they grow in damp grassland and rocky places at altitudes of between 1,100 – 2,900m and receive a protective covering of snow in the winter (meaning a relatively dry dormancy. Let’s translate that into our lowland gardens. They should be grown in a well-drained, humus–rich mixture, either in the open ground (with the provision of winter protection) or in troughs and similar containers which can be transferred into a shed/glasshouse during the winter months. As soon as the over-wintering corms break into growth, they should be given a regular watering and as the season progresses, both during and after the first flush of flowers I will apply a well-diluted tomato feed which will strengthen the corms and encourage a further blast of colour.

I am a bit of a die-hard and continue to stick by the original and well-tried cultivars raised by Ruth McConnel, some of which were named after her dogs! However, I was browsing the current catalogue from Edrom Nurseries (another excellent collection of well-grown plants) and chanced on a whole host of new and unfamiliar cultivars – some will soon need to be purchased! Nowadays I grow nearly all my Rhodohypoxis in troughs and rarely collect the seed, resulting in a few un-named seedlings appearing amongst their parents. I allow this to continue since I am no longer in business. Of the tried and tested cultivars the following will be guaranteed to perform well: Red-flowered, ‘Albrighton’ and ‘Great Scot’; Pink-flowered, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Fred Broome’; Pure-white, ‘Perle’ and ‘Ruth’; White-flushed pink, ‘Helen’ and ‘Pictus’. Of the species I would recommend the stong-growing red, R. milloides and a good pink, R. baurii var. confecta. Ten of the best and then have a go with some of the newer cultivars. I’m afraid I am not keen on the double-flowered cultivars but I am sure I am the exception!

Finally I find the process of propagation very rewarding and carry this out whilst the plants are in growth, carefully teasing the corms apart into generous clumps of several cormlets and potting them up or planting out to allow time for establishment before the onset of winter. Seed can be saved and sown at the usual time for those of you who wish to continue the search for a “winner”!

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Edrom Nurseries:

Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries: