Gardener's Choice for January: Lachenalia

By Laura Griffin Hughes, Gardener

Lachenalia never fail to lift my heart on the grimmest of grey, rain-swept days. The colours of their dainty heads remind me of those childhood birthday favourites, Party Rings and offset by bright-green, often pleasingly mottled foliage, the slender bells dangle like so many dancing paper lanterns. All of which is even more joyful in January when almost everything else (sometimes myself included) is limping, long-sufferingly through winter. 

L. bulbifera is an early one, and we have a fine cultivar, ‘George’, with very distinctive, almost tubular flowers in a delightfully fizzy pink. Then come L. aloides var. bicolor, and L. quadricolor, aptly named, as its heads are magical fireworks of green, orange, red and yellow. 

With relatively little work, and just over a hundred species to choose from, plus some excellent cultivars, these could be dazzling on your windowsill next winter, so give them a try!

Height: Rarely more than 30cm.
Origin: South Africa (They’re sometimes called Cape cowslip).
Flowering time: Jan-Mar/Apr, depends on species. Dormant in summer.
Conditions: A chilly, well-lit window-sill, a cool greenhouse or conservatory. Needs to be frost-free.
Cultivation: Pot in late summer/early autumn. Compost needs some sharp sand and plenty of grit.  Water in well and then only sparingly until leaves start to appear. Increase watering as they move into active growth and feed during the growing season. After flowering allow to die down and keep them dry during the summer.