September is Urginea maritima Month!
And you thought September was about going back to school, or, in the Southern Hemisphere, the start of that season that no gardener much cares about: Spring.
But in this piece of Eden, where it is the end of summer and we begin to look forward to fire season--though maybe "look forward to" is not the right way to put it--anyway, the start of September is show-off time for the Giant White Squill, Urginea maritima.
A bulb possessing the size and heft of a ladies ten-pin bowling ball, but with a stem instead of finger holes, it produces a cluster of green foliage from November to May in the Northern Hemisphere. It is native to Greece. The thick leaves, longer than wide, have a charming twist or wave to them, as if a doting mother had given them an affectionate grooming before patting them on the bottom and sending them on their way.
In late May the leaves die off:
In late August or early September, the bulb shoots up a 5-6 foot (1.5-1.8 meter) flower spike. Here's mine, 6 feet tall this year:
There are hundreds of small flowers on each spike. They bloom from the bottom of the spike up. Sometimes the spike will twist or curl as the wave of opening flowers proceed upwards. Mine did not twist this year.
These big spikes are a popular accent for those enormous fresh flower arrangements you used to see in the lobbies of luxury hotels. Now that no one can afford luxury hotels any more, who knows what they are using in their arrangements now.
Mine is on a dry slope with some Yucca flaccida and my beloved Agave medio-picta alba:
The Squill will send out roots 4 or 5 feet in all directions, making it ideal for a dry slope--it is roots that hold a slope together. Eventually the bulb will split in two, and there will be two flower spikes instead of one. It takes a while--mine has been in the ground for at least 5 years, and it hasn't split yet.
This clump at the Huntington Library may be a few decades old:
All this is well and good: a post all about rare-ish bulb. But the real story, perhaps, is the reason this bulb is in my garden, and quite a few other gardens in this area, and in so many luxury hotel lobbies. It's here because some plant nut in inland Southern California decided back in the 1950's that Urginea maritima was a super cool plant. Plant nuts: you know them. They are the kind of people who think of their Agave medio-picta alba as "beloved".
Anyway, that particular Urginea-loving plant nut, perhaps masquerading as an enterprising businessman to disguise his plant nuttiness, planted some Giant White Squills, then planted some more, and developed a business supplying the flowers to the florist trade. Either he or his successor has continued to do so to the present day. The local garden center of note buys a bunch of bulbs from him every year and sells them, which is where mine came from.
But the moral of the story is that when you see a plant for sale, it is probably because one plant nut somewhere loved it. A lot. Then either they, or their more business-savvy relative, friend, or acquaintance, thought to try to sell it to other plant nuts. I know many gardeners often prefer plants to people (often with good reason) but though we may find plants to be more loyal companisons, still we plant nuts are linked to humanity, by improbable plants.