Lambley Gardens & Nursery, 395 Lesters Road,  Ascot,  Victoria 3364
Phone +61 (03) 5343 4303,  Fax +61 (03) 5343 4257

Winter Display Gardens

The tiniest crocus flowering here at the moment is Crocus biflorus ssp. biflorus which in full flower is no more than a couple of centimetres tall. I bought this bulb from Hillview Rare Plants four or five years ago. Marcus Harvey, who owns the nursery, grew the bulbs from seed he collected on Rhodos. I emailed a photograph of the crocus to him the other day and got this reply which Marcus has generously agreed to let me share with you.

“A lovely little reminder of Rhodos. I have not found this plant elsewhere in Greece. Apparently this is the most easterly occurring population. I have returned twice more to the area but on each occasion I have been too late to find seed. I don’t think I told you but it grows around the old Italian army barracks at the top of Profitis Ilias. Just across the road is the summer house of the dictator Mussolini. When I first went there it was completely abandoned, like some relic from the Great Gatsby. Now the house has been renovated (and turned) into a hotel and they serve coffee out under the pine trees (Black Pine). On each side of this area grows Paeonia rhodia and throughout the pine woods Cyclamen rhodium.

“I wonder if the Italians brought the crocus there. It is more an Italian plant than a Greek one though there are populations, I am told, in European Turkey. The troops must have gathered flowering plants because all around the barracks grow Colchicum macrophyllum and I am sure they are not random plantings.”

Crocus biflorus ssp. biflorus Crocus biflorus ssp. biflorus Crocus biflorus ssp. biflorus
  Crocus biflorus ssp. biflorus  

Marcus Harvey travels regularly to Greece and adjacent countries.  Plants raised from seed he has collected are offered in the two catalogues he produces each year. He also sells other rare and beautiful bulbs many of which he has imported.

At the other end of the scale to Crocus biflorus are the giant flowered Dutch selections of Crocus vernus which is a flower of the European mountains from the Pyrenees in the west to the Ukraine in the east. It’s useful for us as it is happy in parts of the garden which are watered during summer such as Molly’s garden. We planted eight thousand bulbs in this garden a few years ago and at a guess they have increased three fold. They are just starting to flower now, in early August, and will be at their best over the next few weeks. They make such an amazing display that it would be well worth a visit to the nursery just to see them.

Crocus vernus selections in Molly's Garden Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' Crocus vernus selections in Molly's Garden
Crocus vernus Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' Molly's Garden

Another area looking good is the garden at the entrance to the nursery. We planted these beds three years ago with masses of bulbs with a carpet of thyme over them. We are slowly replacing the thyme with a mixed planting of low growing perennials. The mass flowering of Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ is heart stopping. These Iris are at their best as I write but the display will carry on for a good week or two longer.

When I first tried to grow Iris reticulata forty years ago I thought them so precious that I planted them in pots. I had no success at all. They would sometimes flower the first year but then would go into terminal decline.  It took some years before I finally accepted that these bulbs can’t be kept going in pots. Happily they are easily grown in the garden increasing well each year. They are especially precious because they flower in the depths of winter. Frost, sleet, rain and wind don’t so much as put a mark on the flowers.

When I first planted them in the garden I added a good handful of crushed limestone to a square metre as these Iris don’t enjoy very acid soils. The bed, which is in full sun, is slightly raised so that poor drainage isn’t an issue. I also rarely if ever water this bed so the bulbs get a good summer baking. A little supplementary irrigation during summer won’t hurt as long as it’s done on one of the cooler days. I plant these bulbs at a depth of ten to fifteen centimetres.

The following are cultivars or hybrids of Iris reticulata and the related species I. histrioides which we have growing either in the garden or in the bulb field.

Iris reticulata 'Alida' Iris histrioides 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'
  • Iris ‘Harmony’
  • Iris ‘Alida’
  • Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’


Iris histrioides 'George' Iris reticulata 'Cantab'
  • Iris histrioides ‘George’
  • Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’
  • Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’


Iris reticulata 'Purple Gem' Iris reticulata 'Pixie' Iris reticulata 'J.S. Dijt'
  • Iris reticulata 'Purple Gem'
  • Iris reticulata 'Pixie'
  • Iris reticulata 'J.S. Dijt'


Iris reticulata 'Violet Beauty' Iris reticulata 'Edward'
  • Iris reticulata 'Violet Beauty'
  • Iris reticulata 'Edward'


  • Iris reticulataIris ‘Harmony’, a hybrid betwee I. reticulata and I. histrioides is one of the most vigorous of all. It has rich dark blue flowers with yellow crest markings.
  • Iris ‘Alida’ is a sport of ‘Harmony’ with pale almost sky blue flowers.
  • Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ is a mid-blue with exquisite markings on the falls.
  • Iris histrioides ‘George’ is a very large purple flowered variety with almost black falls.
  • Iris reticulata ‘Gordon’ has pale blue standards and deep violet falls with a yellow crest outlined with  white.
  • Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ has Cambridge blue flowers with a darker lip on the falls.
  • Iris reticulata ‘Purple Gem’ has deep purple flowers with white veining on the dark purple falls.
  • Iris reticulata ‘Pixie’ has rich dark navy blue flowers with blackish falls and yellow markings outlined with white.
  • Iris reticulata ‘J.S.Dijt’ has reddish purple flowers with yellow markings on the falls.
  • Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ with its rather strangely coloured flowers, powder blue yellow markings, is a hybrid between the blue flowered Iris histrioides and the yellow flowered Caucasian species, I. winowgradowii.


Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'