Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Good Bulb

This long holiday weekend was a marathon of garden touring; both seeing and showing. A bulb that reliably blooms in our garden this time of year, and always draws comments from visitors and questions as to its identity, is Ornithogalum magnum. It always surprises me that it apparently is not well known and widely grown, for it has many excellent attributes: when it blooms it is rather as if a second spring has occured, for it appears rather magically in mid-May, after all the usual spring flowering bulbs have gone by; it is two to three foot tall, ramrod-straight, and blooms for up to three weeks. The flowers are white with faint green stripes on the back.
Ornithogalum (meaning bird's milk) is in the hyacinth family, and has over 150 species, most of which are tender bulbs from north and south Africa, but a few hail from areas near the Mediterranean that allow them to be semi-hardy to hardy. I suspect the neglect of O. magnum may be due partly to the reputation of the only plant in this genus well-known in hardy climates: O. umbellatum, the star of Bethlehem. It spreads wildly, and has become a naturalized invasive in the entire U.S. outside of the mountain west. O. magnum is a gentler soul, reseeding very modestly in our garden. It is a bonnie companion to hostas, providing vertical accents in our beds.
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That's very pretty - like the delicacy of the blooms.
Ah-ha! I think I have lots of Star of Bethlehem in my garden! Want some?
Kati... oh, no thanks. I hear that once you've got it, you will never really get rid of it (I've already got quite enough of those plants... you want some lamium)?
I have the weedy one - a legacy of previous gardeners and am working to eliminate it. 'Pigeon's milk' is an older name for it but it didn't refer to "milk" :-)
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