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Gagea lutea: A bulb we should see more of in gardens.

Ephemeral plants have always been of interest to me. Here today, gone tomorrow, a delight to enjoy even if for the shortest of moments. Idea, we speak of Plant Moments throughout the year. Brief encounters with wonderful things like the new growth of Peonies bursting through soil around Snowdrop foliage in February; something I look for and enjoy annually.

Bulbous plants are a perfect example of these ephemeral moments, appearing, flowering and disappearing beneath ground again as if they were never there, all in the space of a month. There are countless wonderful bulbs, some hardy, some less so. Bulbs we may grow indoors and some that can live outdoors throughout the year.

A carpet of Gagea lutea
A carpet of Gagea lutea in Stockholm. iPlantsman

One of my favourite bulbs, perfectly hardy in and indeed a native to the UK, but SO rarely seen is Gagea lutea, commonly known as the Yellow Star of Bethlehem. It is quite widely spread in the UK, but in very limited populations with densities in Perthshire and the East Midlands through to South Yorkshire being the largest. Sadly, I must confess that I am yet to see it in the wild. Click here to see a population density map of Gagea lutea in the UK. In point of fact, I haven't seen it very often in the UK for sale either, which is a shame.

Gagea lutea naturalised in a lawn
Gagea lutea naturalised in a lawn, Stockholm, Sweden. iPlantsman

The best and by far the biggest group of Gagea I have ever seen was in Stockholm, Sweden in the gardens of the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) on the Island of Djurgården in early April 2017. (All pictures in this article were taken then.) Here, mass-planted with Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill) and Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica (Lebanon Striped Squill), it glowed and contrasted with their blues in the cool wintry sunlight.

Gagea lutea and Scilla siberica on a bank
Gagea lutea and Scilla siberica, Nordic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. iPlantsman

Now in terms of growing, it is pretty straightforward. It will naturalise in low-competition lawns or grow happily in beds, border and especially in humus-rich soils under deciduous trees. They are surprisingly tolerant of soil moisture, but I would suggest that if cold and wet, they would struggle. They grow well in part-shade or sun, with sunnier spots achieving more flowers. They are pretty trouble-free in terms of pest, diseases and their needs in general. I the UK, due to our milder winters flowering is usually in early to mid March so well worth looking out for in the countryside for that little bit of Instagram magic! Once established, bulbs in the garden will divide to bulk up as well as seed being scattered to develop fulsome colonies. The only obstacle I can find to growing it is the VERY limited availability of bulbs for sale. Well worth looking out for though with specialist bulb growers and I hope it becomes more popular over the coming years.

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