CAMASSIA (kam-as-se-a)

I am devoted (some say obsessed) to collecting every Camassia I can get my hands on.

I fell in love with these bulbous perennial beauties when I first saw them in a woodland garden setting in South Devon over 15 years ago.

There is no finer sight than a swathe of ANY form of Camassia in full bloom when they have been left to naturalise in grass or borders.

Camassia feature widely in our garden areas and I also grow many different varieties in large containers.

Their sturdy racemes of six-petalled starry blooms in a rich hue of blues or creamy-whites (sometimes with variegated foliage and double-petalled flowers) enchant me.

The very first sight of their lush green shoots emerging in February/March is a magical thrill I look forward to at the end of every winter.

I grow an extensive range of Camassia on the nursery and many of these are offered for sale throughout the year. Dry bulbs can also be ordered August to December each year.

You’ll also find me in floral marquees at many events and during the Camassia flowering season I will be displaying these hardy bulbous perennial beauties for visitors to the shows to experience and enjoy.
Pre-orders of Camassia can be placed for delivery to the events I attend.

I also offer dry bulbs for sale during autumn – please contact me for availability as some of the rarer forms are extremely limited in number.  I will be offering all the Camassia bulbs for sale that I have grown for Chris Beardshaw for his GOLD MEDAL WINNING Show Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Email or call for an availability list.

Do please get in touch if you want to share anything Camassia related.  I particularly enjoy researching old and new varieties and would welcome any information you may have to enable me to continue to compile important information to help promote and preserve this simply delightful genus.

CAMASSIA COLLECTION

I’ve often read in the horticultural press that the genus Camassia is the perfect gap filler in gardens between the end of spring and the beginning of summer.  Whilst this is the time of year that Camassia are in full flight I shudder at the thought of these beauties being labelled in such a way.  In my opinion they are worthy of stand-alone recognition for their beauty and grace and stunning additions to a plethora of planting schemes.

Camassia are a genus of bulbous perennials with 5/6 species groups.  They are extremely hardy and will thrive in most conditions – sunny and moist to drier with some shade.  I have found they easily adapt and flourish in heavy damp soils as well as drier conditions and to date I have never experienced problems with pests or diseases.  What’s not to love!

They hail from North America and at one time many moons ago were, apparently, a food staple for Indian folk who used to roast them.  When roasted they taste something similar to a sweet potato but I wouldn’t rush to try this and suggest just stick to sweet potato!  The name Camassia was derived from kamas used by Native American Indians. 

They look fabulous in virtually any planting scheme from formal to informal, woodland areas, damp meadows and alongside ponds and streams as well as wildflower meadows.  I also use them in containers large and small to brighten up shadier areas.  They are a perfect fit for naturalistic planting.

Once established they create a calming visual feast for the eyes as their star-like   six-petalled blooms slowly open from the bottom upwards along their lofty spires reaching heights of between 30cm and 120cm.  A statuesque stunner.

Plant Camassia bulbs during autumn at a depth of 20cm or approximately double the size of the bulb.  I have never pandered to them during the planting process by adding compost or leaf mould but if the thought of this makes you twitch then go ahead and add to that hole although I would probably only do this if I had chalky or sandy soils to nurture them slightly.  The bulbs should be fat and solid and like all purchased bulbs should show no sign of mould or softness.

The firework display of Camassia usually starts around late April/early May and can last for 6/7 weeks.  Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii Caerulea Group (mostly found listed as C. leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’) is one of the first to reveal its beautiful blue followed by C. cusickii (ku-sik-kei) violet blue in colour, C. cusickii ‘Zwanenburg’ a darkish blue flower with a paler stripe down the middle of each of the six petals named after the place in Haarlem, Holland, where the famous van Tubergen Bulb Nursery was based, C. quamash (most commonly found) and C. quamash ‘Orion’ a more distinctive blue followed by C. leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ (cream flowers with variegated leaves allegedly named after a 12 year old Indian girl who was kidnapped and sold as a slave around 1800) C. leichtlinii ‘Alba’ (creamy white and now renamed Camassia leichtlinii subsp. leichtlinii) and C. leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’ (dense racemes of double creamy white flowers).  These are just a snapshot of a few Camassia that will maximise the flowering period of these beauties with many more varieties/cultivars in between that are too many to mention here.

They look just fabulous on their own, in grass or with zingy coloured reds, yellows and oranges in either a wild flower meadow-type setting or perennial border with cool whites and muted pastel colours.

Polygonatum and Dicentra also complement Camassia well as their statuesque spires intermittently puncture the nodding arms of Solomon’s Seal and the hanging and nodding heart shaped flowers of Dicentra in an edge of woodland setting as all are happy in shade.  One of my favourite under planting choices is Iberis ‘Master Piece’ or Iberis ‘Eber Zwerg’.

When living in Devon I grew them, amongst other locations, under Wisteria – the creamy-white Camassia under the deeper blue Wisteria, graduating to the deepest blue Camassia under the white Wisteria along a pergola walkway and I am in the process of recreating this in North Yorkshire – testament to the fact that Camassia will grow successfully virtually anywhere!

As National Collection Holder of Camassia I am keen to raise the profile of this delightful genus and promote its versatility in a plethora of planting schemes.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Stella Exley

Hare Spring Cottage Plants