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.
|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’
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.