Gardens Illustrated
A meadow of camassias
© Clive Nichols

Camassias: how to care for and grow

Published: May 3, 2022 at 2:14 pm

These hardy, versatile perennials can be planted in mixed and herbaceous borders, and in containers. Grower and collector of camassias Stella Exley shares advice on how and when to plant camassia bulbs, and recommends her favourite specimens

Camassias are hardy, bulbous perennials that are really versatile and can be used for a variety of planting schemes, including in mixed and herbaceous borders, meadows and wildflower areas; alongside streams, riverbanks, ponds and woodland edges; or in containers.

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Camassias are native to the damp meadowlands of North America where Camassias quamash was once grown as a foodstuff by Native Americans. The six predominantly blue, species range in height from the statuesque Camassias leichtlinii (1.2m) to the squatter Camassias quamash (30cm). Myriad blue tones range from deepest-indigo Camassias quamash ‘Orion’ to denim-blue Camassias leichtlinii ‘Blue Candle’.

Somewhere in between the starry-eyed singles and full doubles are gently ruffled blooms such as Camassias leichtlinii ‘Harlequin’. Delicate-pink Camassias leichtlinii ‘Pink Star’ is a rare, more recent phenomenon. Strap-like foliage is finer, more grass-like, on smaller specimens and a few have variegated leaves, such as Camassias quamash ‘Blue Melody,’ and Camassias leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’.

How to grow camassias

Where to grow camassias

For best results, grow them in reliably moist soil and introduce a little shade if possible to ensure that the flowers hold longer. Water in their dormant period (July to December) if there are prolonged dry periods.

When to plant camassia bulbs

Plant dry bulbs out in autumn (September to November) in a damp, dappled site, 20cm deep or roughly two to three times their own depth and 6-10cm apart. Water in well. If they don’t flower, they’re too dry or overcrowded and ready for splitting.

Divide established clumps in July to August as new tips can start to emerge from September onwards. Replant at the same depth as the original clump. No need to feed.

When do camassias flower?

Flowering begins around mid to late April with Camassias leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii Caerulea Group and culminates some eight to ten weeks later with starbursts of Camassias leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’ in late May to June.

13 of the best camassias to grow

Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii ‘Alba’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii ‘Alba’ © Clive Nichols

Single, star-shaped, creamy-white flowers with lilac-tinged anthers. Flowers from late spring, its floriferous racemes held high on sturdy stems. Perfect for naturalising. 1.2m.

Camassia cusickii ‘Zwanenburg’

Camassia
Camassia cusickii ‘Zwanenburg’ © Clive Nichols

Plump flower buds burst into lavender-blue petals that wear a paler central stripe. A favourite of designer Chris Beardshaw. 75cm.

Camassia ‘Blue Heaven’

Camassia
Camassia ‘Blue Heaven’ © Clive Nichols

A mid-height, hybrid cross between Camassias leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii and Camassias cusickii. The flower spike bears around 100 radiating pale, sky-blue, star-like flowers, the petals slightly recurved. 80cm.

Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii Caerulea Group

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii Caerulea Group © Clive Nichols

A good naturaliser; tall, statuesque and one of the first to flower, its cool-green buds burst into purply-blue stars, studded with sulphur-yellow stamens. 1.3m.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Pink Star’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii ‘Pink Star’ © Clive Nichols

A relatively rare, delicate, pale pink, but increasingly available. Featured in Chris Beardshaw’s 2018 Chelsea gold-medal-winning and Best in Show garden. 75cm.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Harlequin’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii ‘Harlequin’ © Clive Nichols

Softer sprays of creamy-white, ragged flowers replace trademark star-shaped florets. Borne on long flower wands, with sage-green stems. Rare. 90cm-1.2m.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’ © Clive Nichols

This white, double-petalled cultivar has sterile flowers that are the last and longest to bloom, right into June. 90cm.

Camassia quamash ‘Orion’

Camassia
Camassia quamash ‘Orion’ Clive Nichols

One of the deepest indigo blues available, its short stature and grass-like foliage is good for fronting mixed meadows, fringing ponds and in small containers. 35cm.

Camassia quamash ‘Blue Melody’

Camassia
Camassia quamash ‘Blue Melody’ © Clive Nichols

A short cultivar with pale-blue flowers and yellow anthers that pick up on the striped-yellow margins of its variegated foliage. Good for front of border, meadows or containers. 35cm.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Blue Candle’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii ‘Blue Candle’ © Clive Nichols

Huge, dense racemes of denim-blue flowers on sturdy stems. Great in mixed borders but also naturalises well. 75cm.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ © Clive Nichols

A creamy-flowered cultivar with distinctive, architectural, variegated foliage. 80cm.

Camassia leichtlinii amethyst seedling

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii amethyst seedling © Clive Nichols

One of six unnamed cultivars, bred by Stella, who is developing a range of pink-amethyst-hued cultivars. 70cm.

Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii ‘Maybelle’

Camassia
Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii ‘Maybelle’ © Clive Nichols

A recent introduction with sturdy but beautiful racemes of vivid-blue-tinted, purple flowers and golden stamens that bloom from May onwards. 60cm.

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Where to see and buy camassias

Hare Spring Cottage Plants, Church Orchard, Alne, York YO61 1RX, harespringcottageplants.co.uk
Visits to the nursery and gardens must be pre-arranged by emailing stella@harespringcottageplants.co.uk

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