Ixia: Getting your garden spring-colour ready
There’s a colour revolution going on around us. Colour-blocking recently saw a major resurgence in fashion and décor, and then out popped some blooms, and people realised that their flowers had been following this trend for centuries already.Take the magnificent Ixia – known as the wand flower (how can anything possibly look this pretty without a bit of magic, right?) – that turns out brightly coloured petals, from purple to red and yellow. The centre of this flower appears in a contrasting hue, giving it that fashionable edge that warrants closer inspection. Plant it, between April and May, in full sun or semi-shade, to get the best multicoloured results in spring.
Another plant that carries this inner-outer colour clash is the Sparaxis, flashing its colour-blocking tendencies in tear-shaped splashes on its star-shaped blooms. It loves colour so much that it’s even available as Sparaxis tricolor, with three contrasting colours laid out on its petals. It’s best grown in full sun over the same period as Ixia, but grows about a third shorter than Ixia, so be aware not to hide these dashing petals behind plants that are too tall.
Ornithogalum saundersiae and Ornithogalum thyrsoides can grow up to a metre high, so place these toward the back of a group of plantings. Although the full-sun-loving Ornithogalum flower is either white or green-white, it can also occur in bright orange or yellow shades. It doesn’t quite follow the colour-blocking movement within its blooms, but the impact these clustered flowers create when seen en masse with the long green stems is a striking colour pairing in itself, proving that colour combos can sometimes be enhanced with striking foliage. Because of its longevity as a cut flower, you can easily transport this colour movement into all your rooms, with the added bonus that Ornithogalum contains both summer- and winter-growing species, so you never have to be without flowers in your vases.
With the common name ‘blazing star’, it’s obvious that Tritonia would fall into this group of colour creators. Manifesting in anything from bright orange and cream to salmon and white, this indigenous plant is found mostly in the Western Cape. Its cup-shaped blooms appear a little later in spring (October and November) than the previous three plants mentioned, although it should also be planted between April and May, in full sun or semi shade. When planting Tritonia in pots, allow the corms to almost touch one another, and then be sure to water regularly throughout the seasons if you want them to flower every year. For this amount of watering, ensure the light, sandy, friable soil is always well drained.
Sparaxis is a little less demanding, and will still grow in poor soil, but loosen this soil and add organic matter or sand for even better blooms (which obviously results in more of a colour feast). Slugs and snails will be attracted to this plant as much as you will, so keep them away.
Ixia and Ornithogalum require well-draining soil, and you should increase the watering of Ornithogalum just before flowering if you wish to maintain strong plant growth as the weather warms up. This is also an easy genus to multiply, simply by cutting its leaves. Ixia clones itself by cormlet production, with flowers developing from these cormlet plants the very next season, increasing the abundance of colour in your garden without much effort. After all, that’s how it should be. Colour should be natural – never forced.