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White sea squills, a bulb to behold in your garden

Roger Boddaert

Special to the Village News

They are called the dog days of summer when most summer gardens are beginning to turn down a notch or two, but wait, how about a 4-6 foot glorious white flower stalk with hundreds of individual flowers per stalk that erupts out of sun-baked hot, dry soil at this time of year.

Oh yes, the white sea squill (urginea maritima) from the vast areas of the Mediterranean region can fit that bill. This huge bulbous plant in the Liliaceous family can be called the harbinger of autumn.

These bulbs are indigenous to Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Greece, and Asia Minor, from the sea level sandy dunes up into the low mountain range of those countries.

It was first cultivated in England in 1648 in the Oxford Botanical garden and named by Carl von Linnaeus (father of botanical nomenclature) as scilla maritima but was changed later to urginea in the eighteenth century.

In time, these drought-tolerant bulbs can obtain the size of a soccer ball with bulbils attached to the mother bulb. The flower stalks can often reach heights of 4-6 feet on old bulbs, and they are a spectacular delight in any drought-tolerant landscape setting and as an exotic summer cut flower.

I have grown many exotic and rare bulbs over the years but never found one so adaptable to our dry Southern California areas as this squill. Once the bulbs are planted with minimal water to get started, they are on their own and, as a winter grower obtaining what moisture they need from our annual rainfall, that's it.

They require excellent soil drainage and a warm sunny location to perform at their peak. After the bulbs complete their flowering cycle, a rosette of 18’’-24" blue-green leaves erupt from the tip of the bulb. They grow all winter with leaves storing energy back into the bulb that goes dormant at the end of spring. Then they rest and are hidden in the soil, when all of a sudden, in August and September, out of the ground shoots these white rocket-type flower spikes.

They were brought into the states by the U.S.D.A. in the '30s as an organic rat poison and a dry land agricultural bulb crop. But this project did not come to fruition after years of testing and was disbanded.

I have hundreds of these bulbs planted in my garden setting and, to some degree, have fewer rodents than most landscapes I see.

In my garden, I have staged assorted bulbous plantings that flower throughout the summer months by using the following.The first summer bulbs to bloom are the tall agapanthus, followed by amaryllis belladonna, amacrinum, crinums (pink and white), zephyranthes, and Peruvian daffodils.

I believe in the faith of a seed, and when I planted these tiny seeds, I knew something would happen, and with patience, I now have some 40-year-old bulbs growing throughout my garden setting. It's a spectacular site to see on these hot summer days.

The bulb kingdom is so rich in variety and seasonality that it is possible to have a sequence of bulbs in bloom every month of the year in our Shangri-la climate of San Diego County.

Sea squill is genuinely an investment bulb that keeps getting bigger and better each year. Just plant, add a little water to get started, forget and enjoy.

The many South African bulbs are well adapted to our Mediterranean dry climate and add charm to any garden.

As cut flowers, they lend themselves to very stylish types of design and are sought after in the floral trade. I started selling cut squill flowers back in the mid-70s, and they were a smash with contemporary florists across the country.

These unique and hard-to-find giant bulbs are now available at Ace Hardware in Fallbrook. Hurry on down while supplies last.

Roger Boddaert, horticultural landscape designer, can be reached at P.O. Box 1806 Fallbrook, CA 92088 U.S.A. or 760-728-4297.

 

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