Few flowers can beat freesias for fragrance. Loved for their delicate multi-coloured flowers and light, sweet, floral scent, they are a favourite among gardeners for brightening flower beds and floral arrangements alike.
Freesia ‘Royal Champion’ produces plants with long, strong stems and large fragrant flowers. Flowering prolifically November through to April in a mixture of reds, pinks, blues and whites, the plants grow to 45cm (18in) tall. The rows of funnel-shaped flowers with up to eight blooms on each stalk, float above a fan of fine, sword-like leaves.
A native of South Africa and a member of the Iris family, Freesia are half-hardy bulbous perennials that thrive in warm temperatures. In colder climates they are grown as indoor plants, in containers or as temporary outdoor garden plants.
Freesia plants are free-flowering, set seed freely and seeds itself pretty freely too. They are easy to grow from seed and even easier to care for. Some plants flower in their second season, most in their third. They also reproduce by cormels. With the production of cormels, a pot will be filled with plants in two to three years. Although they are at their best when grown together in clumps or masses, larger clumps are best lifted and divided every three years.
Plant freesias in a well-drained location between September and November, or in spring when the weather warms. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Planted in drifts across the garden bed, these gorgeously scented flowers brighten the spring garden.
Sowing: Sow indoors in Spring or in Autumn
Soak the freesia seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Sow thinly in trays of seed compost. Firm gently and cover lightly with fine compost. Keep moist at all times. Freesia seeds germinate in around one month at 13 to 18°C (55 to 65°F). Transplant into individual 7cm (3in) pots when the seedlings begin to crowd each other in the tray. Grow on at 13°C (55°F). Ensure the seedlings have good ventilation and air circulation. Keep plants moist and feed occasionally with a liquid fertiliser.
In summer, stand outside in a sheltered spot, then return plants to a cool greenhouse or conservatory in September to overwinter. They will thrive with a mild level of air circulation, but not an overly windy spot. If they are growing indoors, run an electric fan in the room where they are growing. Protect them from high winds if they are growing outdoors.
In nature, freesias bloom in winter and early spring in southern Africa, which has a cool and rainy winter climate. Thus, once freesias are planted, they respond favourably to these conditions. The perfect temperatures for growing are 16 to 20°C (60 to 68°F) during the day with night-time temperatures around 10°C (50°F). Overly hot conditions cause plants to grow quickly and results in few flowers that don't last long before the plant's foliage yellows. Heat causes freesias to enter a natural summertime dormancy.
Before transplanting the freesia seedlings outdoors, prepare the soil in your garden. Choose a location where the plants will receive full sun for most of the day. Freesia need to be planted in a moderately fertile topsoil that is moist but well-drained. A slightly gritty soil enriched with organic matter also suffices.
Plant the seedlings 7cm (3in) deep and space 5 to 7cm (2 to 3in) apart. Maintain an evenly moist soil that becomes neither soggy nor bone dry. Transplant the freesia seeds outdoors. Wait until the danger of frost has passed. Carefully remove the seedlings from the indoor pots along with the soil, taking care not to damage the roots.
Water the seedlings thoroughly, completely soaking the ground around them. Continue to water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry, so that the soil is always moist, but not wet. Once freesia flowers, watering can be reduced. Once freesia stops flowering, watering can be stopped.
The plants bloom between November to April. Support flower stems with small canes if necessary. After flowering the leaves will naturally yellow and die back. Reduce watering and allow soil to become fully dry.
Freesias planted in an amended garden bed don't require fertiliser until autumn arrives. Rake a layer of well-decomposed manure or compost over the garden bed to nourish the corms through winter and spring.
Offsets are shoots that grow off the root of the plant, separate from the main stalk. Offshoots can be cut away from the main plant at any time and stuck in a rooting medium. Bring offshoots indoors and plant them outdoors later in the season.
Freesias adapt well to container culture, especially when planted in autumn. Many greenhouses grow freesias in pots to sell as gift plants or for cut flowers. Place in a full sun location in a cool temperature situation. Fertilise potted freesias with a slow-release 10-12-10 bulb fertiliser. Water thoroughly. Reapply fertiliser every two months until the foliage dies back.
After freesia has bloomed, cut the flower stems for the vase but remember to leave the foliage in place. Like many bulbous perennials, Freesia need the leaves to gather sunlight and create nourishment for the corms in order to produce larger flowers next year. Freesias can last 10 to 14 days in a vase.
When the leaves yellow and die toward the end of summer, approximately eight weeks after blooming, gently remove dry foliage by hand before winter. Freesia cannot withstand freezing temperatures for any length of time. In warmer areas cover the plants with straw mulch before the first frost to help retain warmth. If your area receives constant hard frosts, freesia can be dug up and overwintered indoors. Store at around 5°C (40°F) until it's time for spring replanting.
Indoor Plant, Flower Arranging, Borders and Beds or Patio/Container Plants.
Several species of freesia grow naturally across southern Africa. Freesia belongs in the large and very diverse Iridaceae, a family of about 65 genera and 1,800 species distributed all over the world. Africa south of the Equator is home to the greatest concentration of species, 46 genera occur here, including many well-known similar ornamentals, e.g. Gladiolus, Sparaxis, Tritonia, Moraea, Watsonia, Ixia, Crocosmia, Babiana, Dierama and of course, Freesia.
Cultivars and hybrids encountered by gardeners display the showiest or largest flowers. Freesia are important as commercial cut flowers. The plants are cultivated for their perfume. Essence oil of freesia is used in soaps, scented candles, potpourri and body oils.
The genus Freesia received its name from Dr. Christian P. Ecklon who named it after his friend Dr Friedrich H. T. Freese. (died 1876), a 19th century physician German physician and botanist from Kiel and a pupil of Ecklon. He discovered freesia when he was studying plants in South Africa. There are 16 varieties of freesia, all native to Africa.
Freesia corms are commonly but incorrectly called bulbs.
Freesia is endemic to southern Africa and consists of 16 species. It has a rather complicated and confusing history with lots of wrong names, misapplication of names and synonymy. The genus was revised in 1935 by N.E. Brown and again in 1982 by Goldblatt and again in in 2001.
The first two species that were cultivated in Europe in 1766, were both placed in different genera. For example F. corymbosa was thought to be a Gladiolus and F. caryophyllacea was thought to be an Ixia. Freesia refracta arrived in 1795 and was also thought to be a Gladiolus. The botanists Ecklon, Zeyher and Drege, were all active in the early 1800s and sent back several species, but it was only in 1866 that Freesia was described as a distinct genus.
None of the early collections were widely grown, nor were they used in breeding experiments, furthermore they probably did not persist in cultivation and were grown only by collectors. It was only when yellow-flowered plants of F. leichtlinii were discovered in 1874 that Freesia entered the world of horticulture. Max Leichtlin found them in the Botanic Gardens at Padua. How they got there is a mystery, nobody could remember who had planted them there, so the type was named Freesia leichtlinii after Max who spotted them.
Max grew Freesia leichtlinii and distributed material widely. Although called yellow, in photos they actually appear cream with yellow markings and backs flushed with maroon. Victorian gardeners welcomed the newcomer with enthusiasm, as those gardeners had a penchant for forcing almost anything indoors and the cool conditions to please freesias.
Freesia alba first appeared in the English nursery trade in 1878 and quickly spread to Europe and North America. There is no record of how it got there, but it appears to have caused quite a sensation, and appeared in almost every horticultural publication of note in both Europe and America in the years following its introduction.
In the decade following, Freesia gained widespread popularity and was repeatedly figured in horticultural journals. They were evidently a popular ornamental pot plant available in the nursery trade, perhaps due to their strong fragrance.
Breeding began immediately after F. alba appeared on the market and continues to this day. Today there are hundreds of hybrids and varieties in any imaginable colour. Most of these hybrids are derived from F. alba, F. leichtlinii, a rose pink form of F. corymbosa, known then as F. armstrongii, and a deep yellow form of F. corymbosa, known then as F. aurea.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 500mg Average Seed Count 30 seeds Family Iridaceae Genus Freesia Species hybrida Cultivar Royal Champion Hardiness Bulbous Perennial Flowers A mixture of reds, pinks, blues and whites Natural Flower Time November through to April Foliage Fine, sword-like leaves. Height 45cm (18in) Position They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade