One of the great successes over the past month in the garden has been our Camassia. These are a group of beautiful bulbs from North America which are actually in the asparagus family. We have been planting in the meadows for some years and now that their numbers and size has bulked up they have been wonderful this year. There are several species, forming sunning blue or white spikes flowering from Late April all the way through in to June and by using a variety of these species it gives a really long season. First to flower is the deep blue Camassia leichtliii ssp. caerulia. This has been concentrated in the orchard and flowers in perfect timing to combine with the apple blossom.
Next to flower is the sky blue Camassia cusickii and a little later still is the shorter, electric blue of Cammasia quimash, which works beautifully with the yellow of the buttercups in the meadow. Last of all to flower is the white Camasia lichlinii ‘Alba’, which continues deep in to June and is looking stunning in the spring garden with the blue Iris sibirica and a giant buttercup we grow called Ranunculus acris ‘Stevenii’.
When these bulbs are planted in measows they tend to work best in large drifts so that they have the maximum impact. We always try and arrange them in the way the plants would in the wild in groups with outlying clusters. This is the irony in taking time on a job so that doesn’t look like a gardener has done the work but that the plants have put themselves there. On the scale of our meadow we have to work with large numbers of bulbs and each year we plant several thousand. This process go’s really quite quickly and with a bulb planting tool and three good gardeners our record in 1000 bulbs planted in an hour. Once established these bulbs will not only flower year after year but will also self-seed.
Camassia bulbs have long been a very important food plant in North America, where native people farmed them with controlled burning of the grassland. This would keep an open prairie for the Camassia to thrive. In the autumn the bulbs would be lifted so that the large ones cold be eaten and the small ones replanted. Traditionally they were pit roasted for 24 to 48 hours resulting in the flavor of a very sweet, sweet potato. This would have been an important source of sweetness before sugar and honey was introduced to this part of the Americas. For many years I have wanted to taste them, but after enjoying the flowers so much this spring I have decided that they are most defiantly to beautiful to eat!