Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tales of a Nashville Gardener- Crinums in Nashville Gardens

The crinum in these photos is an old "Milk and Wine Lily" from the garden I once had here in Bellevue. When I lost my house, a friend went with a shovel and rescued all my crinums and took them to her garden in Green Hills. These bulbs came from the old Mary Walker Bulb Farm in Georgia. I bought them in the late 1980s, and they have been living outdoors in Nashville dirt since then, which should settle any questions about hardiness.

Crinums are a form of hardy Amaryllis. Like so many of our fine garden bulbs they came from South Africa, and when they arrived in America they became a plant of permanence in old gardens across the South. In the gardens of New Orleans. In the gardens of grandmothers from South Georgia to the coast of Texas. They were a "pass along plant", given to daughters and handed over the fence to neighbors.

Their flowers do not last long, but established clumps do send up new scapes. A week before I took the photo of the Milk and Wine, it had had already bloomed once. This plant is in average soil in a garden that lives on only rainfall. It is not irrigated.

I have never seen crinums offered by any garden center I have visited, and I have been to many. One must seek them out from specialty growers. Several mail order nurseries offer many varieties.

In their his "Heirloom Gardening in the South", William Welch wonders why crinums are not grown as much as they should be.

I think this is because any plant not lined up at the garden centers is a plant invisible. Ordinary or new gardeners have not heard of it,or would not order it by mail even if they had. And crinum bulbs sell for $22.00 and up. One bulb might take a year to bloom and years to form a colony. One must have patience, especially in a garden, where plants grow by their own calendar and not by ours. Some things are worth waiting for, which we forget in our "I want it now" world.

Excellent books that have information about crinums are the aforementioned "Heirloom Gardening in the South" by William C. Welch and Greg Grant and "Garden Bulbs for the South" by Scott Ogden. Ogden's chapter on Crinums is exhaustive with dozens of pictures. Of crinums he writes:

"Their continued presence in gardens is a living testament to the movement of people through the warm climates of the world. Several old crosses are so robust and vigorous that they have outlived their creators and, like Methuselah, seem destined to outlive us all".

Here are some nurseries that sell crinums on line.

Old house


I have bought a number of plants from Plant Delights, and have always had good luck. The other nurseries I have yet to buy from.

*The Milk and Wine Lily gets its name from having pink stripes on its white bloom.

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