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How to Grow Camassia - Quamash.

How to Grow Camassia

Camassias are one of the most underrated bulbs for a brilliant display in the Spring and early summer.

I have photographed them in positions within a border in full sun, in meadow areas where they are happy to naturalise in long grass, and in the dappled shade of woodlands.

Camassia leichtlinii - Blue Danube

'Blue Danub

In each position, they have all seemed happy.

There are only a handful of Camassia to mention - all with the same cultural needs for care and growing. Main colours are either white or blue, held aloft on leafless 'flower spires' of around 24in.

This is variable, for some clumps or Camassias within the clumps seemingly just 6-10 in tall. this adds to the attraction for me, for then you have a much more interesting clump than if all the flower spikes were the same height.

Camassia leichlinii 'Blue Danube' growing happily when naturalised in grassland.

Camassias originate from damp meadowland land in the north USA, but as with many bulbous plants, seem to be quite happy - certainly in the short term - in most areas of the garden other than full shade.

Planting and Care of Camassias

Good Camassia bulbs are the size of a very small clenched fist, and can be bought in the late summer or autumn in good garden centres. They should be planted as soon as possible in the autumn, but not too much harm will seem to be done if this is delayed until early (very) spring. They are likely to sell out and disappear from garden centre shelves within a few weeks - and there is not normally back-up supplies. Get in quick.

In border and container situations, the bulbs can be planted to a depth that allows 2in of soil over the top. In meadows or grassland where there is to be periodic mowing, plant a little deeper to avoid scalping the crowns with a wayward grass mower or strimmer. The main criteria being that the soil - even though in a damp areas, should not become waterlogged. So not good for pond-side planting. Do not cut the foliage back or mow over top until it has died right down.

Plant two or three in clusters for maximum effect. The clumps will start to bulk up after the first full year, and develop into sizeable clumps. Camassias are quite happy in herbaceous or shrub borders, though if in the latter, then well clear of overhanging branches. They respond to a good helping of mulch, which will help prevent any hard frost damage.

Propagation of Camassias

Ripe seed can be collected from the plants, and sown as soon as harvested. They are best kept in a coldframe or other structure outdoors. An unheated propagator with plastic lid will do the trick.

For mature clumps, they can be lifted when dormant - mid to late summer - or autumn - to remove any offsets at the base of the bulb. These can then be replanted where they are to flower in a year or so, or can be left in a 'nursery' area for two years before being planted out.

Pests and Diseases of Camassias

More or less trouble free, but have seen a little slug damage, which annoyed as I wanted a perfect photograph. This minor damage will not detract otherwise.

Types of Camassias

  • Camassia cusikii - is the shortest of the Camassia varieties, with flower spikes of up to 14in (35cm) tall. It is blue-flowered, with the deepest blue being from the cultivar Camassia cusikii 'Zwanenburg'.
  • Camassia leichlinii together with its cultivars, is the tallest of the Camassias - being up to 24in (60cm) tall. C. leichlinii itself is normally white - off-white, though blues sometimes appear. To be certain of a blue flowered cultivar, then Camassia leichlinii Blue Danube is the choice.
  • Camassia quamash is the choice for naturalising - but is happy in borders - with flowers up to 20in (50cm) tall, and in rapidly spreading clumps.

 A 'different' type of bulb - well worth planting - which should give many years of trouble free blooming and will eventually spread to whatever space is available. Absolute must for a meadow situation, but should not be overlooked for other parts of the garden.

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