August 2012 Meeting – South African Bulbs / Terry Smale

This was a well attended meeting where the Branch had the pleasure to welcome one of the UK experts on the subject matter: Terry Smale.

Terry told us that his interest in SA bulbs dates back to the late 80s and early 90s, and that it stems from his interest in succulents from the winter rainfall areas. There were not many growers of these plants in the UK, and there was a distinct lack of literature about these plants too.

His talk covered habitat and cultivation of bulbs from the winter rainfall areas in South Africa, and it showed us their intriguing variety.

Cultivation: these bulbs require well-drained neutral to acidic compost that is low in nutrients; watering starts in August and ends in May (‘August Bank Holiday is a good day to start’); they need protection from frost, good ventilation and as much light as possible during winter, perhaps some shade come spring; a warm, dry summer rest is necessary too because the bulbs need the summer heat to ripen and may stay dormant if kept in a cool shady corner under the bench.

Propagation: from seed. Even the seed needs a warm ‘resting’ period, so sow in early September and the seed should germinate with falling temperatures and moisture, after four to six weeks; frost protection is necessary; the bulbs reach flowering size within 2 to 20 years, depending on the species. “Don’t grow Brunsvigia from seed unless you are younger than 60!”

Further info: see Terry’s website with a wealth of photographs of South African bulbs, as well as a list of relevant literature and the contact details of  the two main suppliers of seed, Silverhill Seeds and Gordon Summerfield.

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