Introducing … Scilla peruviana

 

The adage ‘it takes all sorts’ applies just as accurately to plants as is does to people. Some plants hide their light under a bushel whilst others come out all guns blazing; some are solid marathon runners, others are thrilling sprinters. A good garden needs a balance of each to maintain interest: variety is vitality. Planted with too many slow-but-steady types, a garden runs the risk of appearing dull, monotonous, even institutional. Furnished with a surfeit of boom-and-bust plants, a plot will be prone to moments of glory followed by ugliness or vacant nothingness. Not to mention the hard work involved in plugging the gaps. One of the many skills a good gardener must learn is how to successfully compose plants with different attributes. A great gardener will also make them sing.The value in short-lived flowers comes when celebrating the season or providing moments of exhilaration when they should choose, albeit briefly, to do their thing. Returning to my opening analogy, Scilla peruviana, the Portuguese squill, is a fully paid-up, pistol-toting 100 metre runner. A stout, bulbous plant, it does nothing of interest for the majority of the year (in common with other squills and many spring flowering bulbs) before dazzling with a retina-burning display of gentian-blue flowers for a few days in May: exactly how many days is determined by the weather. From a timing point of view Scilla peruviana can be a useful plant, bridging the gap between late flowering tulips and the first of the herbaceous perennials, but mostly it’s a showstopper.

 

 

I have grown Scilla peruviana for the first time this year having been inspired both by Sissinghurst and local Broadstairs gardens. At Sissinghurst a rivulet of blue appears at the foot of the red-brick Moat Walk wall each spring. The dense cones of intense, star-shaped flowers are a sizzling counterpoint to red, orange and yellow azaleas planted on the opposite bank. Scilla peruviana revels in a sunbaked, sheltered spot, originating as it does from warmer climes than the British Isles. However it’s not, as the name suggests, from Peru. Originally named Hyacinthus stellatus peruanus it’s thought that 16th Century botanist Carolus Clusius mistook the fact that the bulbs had arrived on a ship named ‘Peru’ for this being their country of origin. Linneaus perpetuated the error by renaming the plant Scilla peruviana in 1753, and the name stuck. Clusius’ bulbs had in fact come from somewhere in the Western Mediterranean, rendering the present common name, Portuguese squill, more accurate than the Latin.

 

 

In common with many Mediterranean bulbs, Scilla peruviana prefers well-drained soil, plenty of sunlight and a warm, dry summer rest. After flowering in May and June the leaves die back before re-emerging in late summer and enduring through the winter. Grown as a pot plant the bulbs enjoy a mix of two parts John Innes No.2, one part leafmould and one part grit. When in growth the pot should be watered freely, before easing off after flowering and allowing to dry out. The cultivar I am growing, S. ‘Caribbean Jewels Sapphire Blue’ claims to be more tolerant of cooler climes, shrugging off a few degrees of frost. Planted in September the bulbs will flower the following spring. I’d recommend overwintering in a cold greenhouse or coldframe where available.

If I had space in my garden I’d plant generous clumps of Scilla peruviana with a late flowering yellow tulip such as ‘Westpoint’ and perennial Euphorbia polychroma, which produces sulphur-coloured bracts at about the same time. The moment created may be fleeting, but could easily be followed by hardy geraniums or salvias, which would both cope with a degree of summer drought. The secret is not to allow the Scillas to be smothered too early, permitting the leaves to recharge the bulbs ready for their next splendid moment of glory. TFG.

 

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31 thoughts on “Introducing … Scilla peruviana

  1. Hi Dan, I’ve planted several of these, so it was interesting to read their history, thanks. Mine were sent to me as a replacement for an unavailable bulb order and I knew nothing about them. I think I’ll have to wait a few years before I have a rivulet though!

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  2. Love the blue and the clusters! It looks great with the geranium as a back drop with its chartreuse and reddish leaves. The back story is interesting. I think I need to latinize my name.

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  3. I might have a go at growing this one this autumn, in a pot. They are lovely and also come in a paler shade too. They have some growing along a walk in Hayle which I love to visit often as there is such a lot of South African flora planted there (and Australasia too), and I fantasise about having them in my garden (which is much too small and much too windy). Anyway you might want to take a peek, though no scilla in these photos. https://smallbluegreenflowers.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/kerdhva-gov-jori-v/

    I must go and take a look and see if they have any in flower at the moment.

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  4. I had to smile when I read this. I’m involved with an old cemetery in Melbourne, Australia, the Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery and Scilla peruviana has taken over large areas of the 31 acres. This all possibly from a single bulb planted by a loving relative decades ago. It does look wonderful when in flower but does a lot of damage to graves and pushing up through asphalt paths. It thrives on neglect in our conditions.

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    1. Why is it that everything we treasure and mollycoddle here in England is rampant in Australia? Agapanthus, gloriosa, now Scilla peruviana!! I guess our disappointing yet aggressive Muscari armeniacum is the equivalent bulb here. It will go through asphalt and is very persistent, only nowhere near as pretty. If I neglected my scillas they’d give up on me in no time.

      Love the image of 31 acres of gentian blue flowers though! Dan

      But we have acres of smooth green lawns and those are not your forté

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  5. I’ve no experience what so ever with Scilla peruviana planted in pots… but I did order some bulbs at Bulbes d’argence in France 3 years ago and planted them on an east facing olive slope in Italy. By now they’ve become really big clumps which bloom every year (although not every single head). This spring I also spotted a lot of seedlings. Beautiful plants ! Gino

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    1. You’ve given me an idea Gino. I could plant them under my own olive trees, although these are also in pots. Might not work as I have to water them all summer. You’ve conjured up such an appealing picture. I hope those seedlings prosper. Dan

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  6. How strange you posted this as only that day I had seen some growing in the glasshouse at Dorothy Clive garden. I have seen these before and always loved them. Then yesterday by a strange quirk of fate whilst shopping in Pershore on a Dutch trolley outside the ironmongers of all places there was a pot of them! I walked to the back of the shop where there is a tiny little garden plants and supplies shed and yes more pots of them! I just had to have one! By the way Dan my two hedychiums were repotted in March root system looked fine but as yet no sign of growth! Saw yours in a recent blog and they are sprouting everywhere….are mine just late…?

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    1. Yes, don’t worry … yet. If the roots were firm / hard they are fine. Those I have planted in the ground are not doing anything yet. A decent spell of good weather will set them on their way.

      I hope your scillas do well. They should probably be planted a bit deeper that they would have been in the pot. Your story is a bit like me with Asphodelus albus. A friend asked me to identify it, I had never seen it before but managed to work it out, and now I’ve seen it offered for sale at least three times in a month! Strange isn’t it how these plants manage to pass us by for years and then ambush us?

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      1. That’s good news! Yes funny how these plants enter our consciousness and then see them everywhere…the vanilla scented Nemesia was another one you introduced me to and now I’m hooked!

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  7. What gorgeous blooms — thanks for sharing this info about a bulb that I didn’t know anything about! Hope you are enjoying lovely weather in your beautiful gardens. Best, -Beth

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  8. Scilla peruviana is reliably hardy for Bob Brown in Evesham. He compares several cultivars here.
    http://www.cgf.net/plants.aspx?id=8&hid=6&genus=SCILLA

    It struggles outside in Cornwall; we have trouble giving it a hot dry summer! Yours look really good in front of the Geranium leaves.

    Do you know the equally hardy Scilla hyacinthoides? Cheekily known as the blue Eremurus or even the blue Kniphofia? And if you follow the trends it has ceased to be a Scilla! Now Nectaroscilla hyacinthoides.

    Chad

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      1. Well, that is it exactly. I got my first scilla just because I needed to get a picture of it. It was never happy after that. However, there are so many other things to grow here, and I can not tend to them all anyway.

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  9. I have six Scilla Peruviana which all flowered last year, the first after planting, but this year its May already and no sign of a flower bud on any of them. What’s gone wrong? Thanks for any advice

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    1. I would recommend you don’t worry until next spring Karen. After flowering many bulbs have a tendency to split into smaller bulbils and then take a while to build back up to flowering size again. Give them a feed to bulk them up and avoid disturbing them. They should be back to flowering size again next year. They do like to be sunbaked too, so don’t keep them shaded during the growing season.

      If it’s any consolation, mine didn’t re-flower this year either.

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    2. Is it possible they split up in smaller bulbs ? Those will probably flower next summer. A lack of sun during the summer when they go dormant can also be a factor…

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    1. Hi Sue. I’d recommend removing them so that the plant puts all its energy into making a strong new bulb for next year. If you don’t the energy will go into producing seed and the bulbs may be smaller as a result. Dan

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