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Winter delights at Lambley

David Glenn

David Glenn

August 5, 2013

Having spent my childhood and youth in the East Midlands of England, where the gloom of winter settled in early November and didn’t begin to lift until April, where I rode my bike to school in the dark and rode it back in the dark, Australia’s winter seems short and benign. No sooner has winter arrived than it’s all over. I just manage to get the perennials cut back before the first of the spring bulbs start to flower.

Crocus sieberi 'Bowles White'

Crocus sieberi ‘Bowles White’

Crocus sieberi ssp. atticus 'Firefly'

Crocus sieberi ssp. atticus ‘Firefly’


Crocus sieberi ‘Firefly’ is one of the first, opening as it does in July. I’ve grown it for forty years and it never fails to put on a show. Crocus sieberi ‘Tricolor’ and ‘Bowles White’ are not as vigorous as ‘Firefly’ but are still good doers.

Crocus tommasinianus in all its variations is the easiest and most obliging of all crocus self sowing throughout the dry garden. One form Crocus tommasinianus ‘Roseus’ is the pinkest clone and when it opens, on a mild day, the flowers are large and star like. The white flowered form of Crocus tommasinianus that’s in the dry garden has very light flecks of mauve through it. This is the commercial strain sold by the Dutch bulb growers. I got another white form from Otto Fauser, that most respected of Australian plantsman, which doesn’t have the flecking. Sadly it seems quite slow to build up.

Crocus tommasinianus 'Roseus'

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Roseus’


Two groups of snowdrops are flowering in the dry garden, both are exceptional doers. Galanthus elwesii has a very widespread distribution in the wild and can be found in lots of areas in both Greece and Turkey.

Galanthus 'Arnott's Seedling'

Galanthus ‘Arnott’s Seedling’


Otto Fauser gave me fifty bulbs of Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ as a garden warming present when Criss and I first bought ‘Burnside’. It has exquisite flowers, amongst the most beautiful in a genus of beauties. And is a terrific increaser so one bulb planted under trees will increase to ten or more after four or five years. Snowdrops are difficult to produce in commercial quantities however as they only seem to like growing under trees in spots where winter light can illuminate them. I’ve tried to grow them under shade cloth in the bulb field here but with no success. I asked a Dutch bulb exporter, on one of his annual visits to Australia, how Galanthus were grown in Holland. He told me that he buys the snowdrop bulbs from farmers who have them growing in copses on their farms not from commercial bulb growers who found it very difficult, if not impossible, to produce them in their bulb fields.

Iris reticulata, Crocus and Narcissus in the Lambley Gardens

Iris reticulata, Crocus and Narcissus in the Lambley Gardens


The beginning of August would not be the same without the jewel of the dry Turkish mountains, Iris reticulata. I grow about a dozen different varieties. They all increase rapidly if planted in well drained soil which isn’t too acid. I give a regular top dressing of ground limestone and organic life fertiliser in late autumn. They prefer to be dry during summer, the drier the better. One bulb planted 3 or 4 years ago has increased to a dozen now. Iris reticulata doesn’t enjoy pot cultivation. A season in a pot wouldn’t hurt but they are much, much better planted in the garden.

Eranthis cilicius

Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis


The winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, is widely naturalised in Europe where it flowers by the thousand in deciduous woodland. It’s one of the first flowers of the northern hemisphere new year where its bright yellow buttercup-like flowers are anticipated as a portend of spring. I tried to grow the winter aconite under some ancient elms but sadly they were overwhelmed by weeds. A couple of years ago I planted a different species, Eranthis cilicicus, by the side of a path under a Mount Fuji cherry. These bulbs have done really well and are now self sowing.

[This is a sponsored post from Lambley Nursery, Ascot, Victoria. Browse Lambley’s full perennial catalogue]


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7 years ago

David, your vivid description of life in England in winter made both hubby and I laugh! Having lived in Oz for well over 40 yrs it s easy to forget how horrid the UK winters were. I have always said how short and sweet winters are here. To me there are only really 2 seasons here, winter for 3 months and summer for the rest of the year! My bulbs all flowered extremely early this year and half our trees had barely lost their leaves before they were back in bud again. A very brief winter in Sydney indeed.
I have never attempted Crocus growing but do remember them fondly from the gardens of my childhood. Would they be suitable for our Sydney climate or do they need a cold start to get them on their way?
Your photos are just stunning.

David Glenn
7 years ago
Reply to  SpicyRedHead

One advantage of living in central Victoria is that we can easily grow so many dry climate bulbs. Most need a relatively cold winter to do well or even to do at all. Sydney isn’t the best spot to grow Crocus but then you can grow frangipani.

Catherine Stewart
7 years ago

I love the way your photographs have caught the low winter sun on the crocus petals. I’m always torn between wishing my Sydney garden could chill down to allow me to grow such plants, and being very glad that it doesn’t!

Julie Thomson
7 years ago

The delicacy and subtle beauty of cold weather specimens make this tropical gardener envious. But I have a ring of white crocus that comes up every spring in our southern shade that makes me smile. Lovely pictures.

David Glenn
7 years ago
Reply to  Julie Thomson

I’m a bit puzzled about the Crocus which flower in your tropical garden each spring. Do you know their botanical name. I know that Zephyranthes, sometimes called Crocus, grow and flower in the tropics but they are generally summer and autumn flowering.

Julie Thomson
7 years ago
Reply to  David Glenn

I am not sure of the name of these, what I always thought were crocus, but will take a pic and see if you can identify, David.

Julie Thomson
7 years ago

Actually, you’re right. They are zephyranthes or rain lillies. But they ARE flowering now! We have had deluges of rain this winter ( normally our dry season) and it has thrown flowering cycles into a spin for many specimens.