Tulips and daffodils are not the only choices for a bulb garden. A number of unusual plants grow from bulbs or corms, and are occasionally available at certain nurseries. These selections have strikingly beautiful flowers and usually bloom later in the season, adding color to the garden during late summer and early fall.
The gloriosa lily is a beautiful and unusual combination of vine and flowering plant. It requires a support to grow on and rich, well-drained soil. Larger bulbs produce taller vines, and hence more flowers. Blooming occurs in early summer, with electric red and orange flowers opening sequentially from the bottom to the top of the vine. Every year, the bulbs will produce offsets which can be divided and grown on. Offsets will usually take two to three years to begin blooming. Although this plant is hardy in USDA zone 8 through 10, it can be grown in colder areas as well. Simply dig up the bulb in fall after the foliage has died back, and store in a cool area that does not freeze.
Hymenocallis has often been called "Spider Lily" for the appearance of its flowers. Usually white, the flowers have a central cone from which dangling petals emerge. Blooming occurs in late summer. Soil for hymenocallis should be rich and well-drained, and the bulbs planted 5 to 6 deep. Although hymenocallis can be grown as a bog plant, gardeners in cold climates should dig it up and store it for the winter months. This bulb looks its best planted in groups, either in the landscape or in a bog garden. Hymenocallis caroliniana is the species to grow if maximum cold hardiness is desired. Although the flowers are slightly smaller than other varieties, this native plant is hardy in zones 6 through 10.
Rhodophiala has flowers resembling as amaryllis in a wide range of colors. This is another bulb that blooms in late summer to early fall, providing a burst of late-season color. Rhodophiala requires well-drained but fertile soil. Drainage is a crucial factor in the hardiness of this bulb. Wet soil in the winter can cause rot. Rhodophiala bifida is the easiest to grow of the entire species, being very hardy and tolerant of moisture all year. Other varieties native to Chile, such as Rhodophiala bagnoldi, require a dry period of summer dormancy, and will not tolerate wet soil. Most rhodophiala species are hardy in zones 8 through 11.
Sprekelia formosana (Aztec Lily) produces very large red flowers up to 5 inches across that look rather like those of an orchid. Only a foot tall, this is a good choice for containers and other planting situations where the flowers can be viewed close up. Although hardy in zones 8 through 11, this bulb can be difficult to grow in rainy maritime climates. Dryness during dormancy is critical, and can be best provided by digging up the bulb and storing it for the winter. A growing site in full sunlight is necessary for blooming, which can occur in both spring and fall.