Thursday 12 March 2015

How to grow ipheion?

If only ipheon did not have tall straggly foliage, smell of garlic and hold its flowers sparsely  it would be a very fine plant. I can give it no greater insult as to compare it with muscari. My undeserved prejudice against muscaris was probably formed by pulling out hundreds of handfuls for a similarly deluded client!

Despite my acid comment, tubs of beautiful ipeionic starflowers viewed from our conservatory window have brightened our Winter.

I have grown ‘common-o-garden’ Ipheion uniflorum as a ‘bread and butter’ plant for several years. Very easy to grow, hardy and tolerant to green plants being scooped out with a spade and shifted around, it has flowered in my gardens for many weeks every March and April.

hardy Ipheion uniflorum
I have had the same stock of very hardy Ipheion uniflorum for forty years 

I now think I have in the past wrongly concluded that the lovely named varieties offered by bulb merchants were difficult and tender. I have now changed my mind and think these beautiful star shaped flowers when properly established might be just as easy as their neglected big brother. For years I have been popping in dry bulbs of named varieties and if they have grown at all they have not made it through to the next season.

In Autumn 2013 I tried something different. I got my Autumn bulb order in early and immediately on receipt soaked the dry bulbs in water for a couple of hours. I then planted clusters in half a dozen three litre pots. They were thoroughly watered and placed in my cold greenhouse. 
(Here in the UK ‘cold greenhouse’ is the term for a greenhouse with zero artificial heat and in Winter although giving protection can be very cold. Hopefully not too often much below freezing). 
By November the bulbs were sprouting but did not come to much and to my shame I cannot remember much about them! No memory of a flower. They died down in their pots in Spring but only after receiving full light and sufficient water as bulbs must at this time.
In August, still in the same pots, but top dressed with compound fertiliser, I restarted watering.

I stood my pots over a larger container. It would have be nicer to plunge them

This time things were very different!  Although dwarfer than my existing garden plant  they were really quite vigorous. When they started to flower in early January this year they were too nice to waste and I stood them outside where we could view them. We have had a succession of  beautiful flowers for a couple of months. Now in Mid March they are still make a lovely display although the beautiful strong  flowers are now interspersed with yellowing foliage.

Now in mid March the foliage is starting to yellow and the flowers are more recognisably pink!  

I suspect that they are rather like snowdrops and hate being out of the soil on a dry merchant’s shelf or in the bulb growers store. Snowdrops have an accurate reputation for transplanting ‘in the green’ and I think ipheions might be similar. Of course, if you can find them, snowdrops can be moved at any time if they are transplanted direct out of the ground. I suspect transplanting when newly dormant is the best way for ipheion.

I am captivated by their names. The common uniflorum is such a pale violet it nearly looks white. ‘Alberto Castillo’ has larger pure white flowers, ‘Rolf Fiedler’ is rich dark blue, ‘Wisley Blue’ is delicate pale, evocative ‘Froyle Mill’ is dark violet and ‘Charlotte Bishop’ is rosy pink. Pastel names for pastel flowers.

A dead ringer for Ipheion 'Wisley Blue' but was bought as a white one

‘Jessie’ raised from a seedling of ‘Rolf Fiedler’

Cultural notes
Ipheion will grow in a wide range of soils but prefers very sharp drainage. The common I. uniflorum has never been too fussy for me. It thrives in anything between full light and bright shade. Although I have never bothered to ‘split’ mine other than for propagation purposes, if it becomes really crowded it might be best to divide it. This will not be necessary for several years unless you wish to create large drifts. In the past I have just used a fork as if it was a normal herbaceous perennial.

Although I have found it successful to lift and divide a green plant it is arguably better to divide it when it is dormant. Here it has just been forked out of the ground

And pulled gently apart by hand

Don’t go to this extreme which I have done to demonstrate its small bulb, albeit twice the size of the one from the bulb supplier

I have planted these clumps in a gravel area I am developing. It is essential to keep them well watered with the dry March winds we are currently getting!

Ipheion has been one of those plants whose name I could never remember!
In our family it has been ‘the bulb that smells like garlic in the front garden’.

If you have arrived at this post via a search engine you will have found that it wanted to take you to iPhone! I never forget the name of my telephone plant now.


  1. Never mind growing it how do you pronounce it? Is it in the sheltered courtyard area?

    1. Glad you are still speaking to me Sue after my recent lapse! It is in our sheltered courtyard,but also in the ground in my rather more exposed gravel garden. I do think it is quite hardy - certainly my original plant is.

    2. I pronounce it 'if-ee-on' or perhaps just a little like 'if-i-on' where both 'i's are pronounced as in if!
      Fortunately they are no firm rules to pronounce latinised names. I never know how to pronounce 'clematis' and some of our American friends seem to disagree on tomato! - not that that is latin!

  2. I too have Ipheion and also never divided it. I suspect it might need dividing though. I happen to like Muscari. I think it is a cheerful reminder of Spring. Yes, it does get frisky in the garden, popping up everywhere.

    1. I am not usually prejudiced and it was a cheap jibe about muscaris. Ever fickle I will probably be singing its praise on another occasion, Donna. I have been tempted to try muscaris in the past and must admit it looks nice in the catalogues

  3. for pronunciation see:
    Not very common in Canada, but it is hardy to zone 5. I have started growing some, and trying them from seed. We'll see.
    I happen to love Muscari, except that I have to admit M. armeniacum should never be planted in a rock garden - it will take over. Several other species seem to be much better behaved. M. Valerie Finney is great.

    1. Glad to hear someone else putting in a shout for muscari, Robert.

  4. Very informative post Roger. I would have thought they were not hardy for us but I checked and I see that they are! They might be difficult to find though as I don't remember seeing them for sale but I could no doubt get them by mail. We are at a disadvantage as far as sourcing plants here - most American or European firms do not ship bulbs or plants to Canada. Most of the country having a very harsh climate, local firms are not very adventurous in their offerings.

    1. Yes I read in your blog about your tough Winter conditions, Alain.
      When I was checking out before writing it did seem that it is quite popular further south in the States but that's a long way!

  5. I didn't know this plant until I read your post. I share your dislike of Muscari, by the way. It seems to take over, and swamp the other little bulbs. There is a village near us called Froyle. I wonder if Ipheion "Froyle Mill" is named after it?

    1. I bet it does, Mark. Does anyone know? It would be good to hear.

  6. Telephone plant! Hilarious! I will remember it too now :-)
    I have never heard of this one before but like you, I have also spent backbreaking hours pulling out muscari bulbs whilst muttering unspeakable words and promising never to plant any in my own garden. Having said that, I have been looking for pink and white muscari for a while, I saw them in a magazine some years ago and they were described as much less invasive – but I haven’t found anyone selling them.
    Do these iPhone bulbs, sorry – Ipheion bulbs self-seed easily or do they keep well within their area? Prolific self-seeders are not welcome in my garden unless I can easily deadhead :-)

  7. Thank you for your lively and informative comment and question HELENE.
    I have never found my original ipheion to self seed but then again I have thousands of snowdrops which are widely reported to self seed and I only see evidence of vegetative propagation!
    When I was researching the literature for ipheion I did find cases where self seeding had given
    rise to intrusion of different colours. I don't think the possibility of self seeding should put you off trying them.

  8. Interesting post as usual Roger, I have never grown Ipheion but you may have solved a mystery for me in that I took a picture of a plant a couple of years ago in a local botanic garden and wondered what it was until now, looking at your picture I am pretty sure it was Ipheion uniflorum. Never mind Muscari, Spanish Bluebells are the bane of my life.

    1. Yes Spanish bluebells were a nuisance self seeding in my old Bolton Percy garden. I love the huge drifts in my cemetery gardens though and have no prejudice against them!
      Perhaps I should plant muscari in there!

  9. It might be four years since you posted this, Roger, but again through searching I've ended up reading your post on Ipheions and found it informative and 'realistic'. My neighbour just brought me a good clump from her mother's garden...tomorrow I shall be dividing it and planting it out in little groups. Many thanks. Noelle


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