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Rugged and fool-proof, this easy classic thrives virtually everywhere. “The stately Spanish bluebell is found in all old Southern gardens,” Elizabeth Lawrence wrote, and it’s hardy north to zone 5, too (or even 3, some say!). ‘Excelsior’ dates back to 1906 and is the most vigorous and floriferous form. Aka wood hyacinth, squill, late spring blooming, 15-18”, zones 5a-8b(10bWC), from Holland. Chart and care.
True stock of this legendary wildflower is all but impossible to get today (it crosses too freely with Spanish bluebells in the Dutch bulb fields), but ours come from a small nursery in Wales where it’s native and still 100% pure. With slender, arching, honey-scented blooms, it’s easy to see why it’s been so well-loved for so long – though please note that unless you live in a mild, moist climate, Spanish bluebells (above) are much easier to grow. 12-15”, zones 6a-7b(9bWC), from cool, green Wales. Learn more. Chart, care, and learn more.
Animal-proof! Above leaves that look like a daffodil’s, clusters of white bells tipped with green dots dangle gracefully. Standing 18-24 inches tall, ‘Gravetye Giant’ is the hardiest, most floriferous snowflake, introduced in 1924 from Gravetye Manor (say GRAVE-tie), the home of William Robinson, “father of the English perennial border.” And even pocket gophers leave them alone! Aka snowdrops or dewdrops (especially in the South), zones 5a-9b(9WC), from Holland. Chart and care.
True stock! This is the original Southern heirloom – a triploid, which gives it extra vigor – not the smaller, earlier-blooming Japanese diploid that most sources offer today. Legend has it that it was introduced into New Bern, NC, by a US Navy captain in the 1850s and spread across the country from there. With clusters of exotic, coral-red flowers, it lights up the late summer garden like fireworks, even in light shade. 18-24”, zones 7a(some say 6!)-10b(10bWC), from Texas and Louisiana. Chart and care.
In late summer, bare stalks rocket up out of nowhere, opening into shimmering, lavender-pink, amaryllis-like flowers. Surprise! Also known as naked ladies and resurrection lily, this Asian wildflower is “nearly ideal for the middle and upper South,” Scott Ogden writes in Garden Bulbs for the South. It blooms here in chilly zone-6 Ann Arbor, too, if you can give it a sunny site that stays relatively dry in summer – and patience as it re-establishes itself. 36”, zones 5b-8a(8bWC), from Missouri. Learn more. Chart and care.
Dark, midnight-blue starch hyacinths or blue bottles have made themselves at home and multiplied without care in sunny gardens and shady lawns throughout the South for generations – and they do equally well up North! (If you’re looking for the original grape hyacinth, we’re sad to say it has recently gone “commercially extinct.”) From Holland, 6-10”, zones 5a-8b(9bWC). Chart and care.
We love these subtle, Quakerish bells of silver and sage that have been grown since colonial days. They thrive in light shade, bloom in late spring, and are much too rarely seen today. They’re cheap, too – so why not take a small leap and try a few? 8-12”, zones 5b-8b(8bWC), from Holland. Chart and care.
Also called hurricane and schoolhouse lilies, these brilliant heirlooms look like short, slender, blood-red amaryllises. Extra tough, they thrive in clay or sand and often mark abandoned homesites. They were introduced from the Andes in 1807, brought to Texas by German settlers about 1865, and were offered by the Lily Nursery of Jacksonville, Florida, by 1881. Ours is the true ‘Hill Country Red’ heirloom, formerly Amaryllis advena, Habranthus hesperius, and Hippeastrum advenum, 12-18”, zones 7a-10b, from Texas. Chart and care.
Vast pools of this true blue wildflower spangle many old neighborhoods in very early spring, spreading without care in light shade, under shrubs and into lawns. Grown in America by 1830, its heyday was the early 1900s when one writer recommended planting “hundreds and thousands in every garden.” We’d be happy to help you with that! 4-6”, zones 3a-7b(9bWC), from Holland. Chart and care.
“Perhaps the best of fall-flowering bulbs,” writes John Bryan in his encyclopedic Bulbs. Often called fall daffodils, sternbergia look more like big, lemon-yellow crocus. They do best in sunny sites that are dryish in summer and not too harsh in winter. (Learn more.) Though grown since colonial days and “once plentiful” according to Elizabeth Lawrence, by 1942 they were “so neglected they disappeared from all but a few” old gardens. Isn’t it time for a renaissance? 6-9”, zones 6a-9b(10bWC), from Holland. Chart and care.