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African lily-Agapanthus

April 18, 2013

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Dutch settlers first discovered agapanthus in South Africa circa 1650, christening it the African lily.  Then by 1788 its Greek name, agapanthas-literally love (agape) and flower (anthos) came into use. It’s neither a lily nor a bulb, it’s a rhizomatous perennial with a fleshy rootstock and once established provides a delightful display in August. Pre-packed bulbs are sometimes on offer at this time of year but these tend to dry out in the warmth of the garden centre so seek out healthy pot-grown plants with lots of strappy green foliage.  Spring is a great time to plant and establish  new agapanthus as the roots still have time to develop over the summer ready for a magical display in august when much in the garden has finished performing.

Some species are best brought into conservatories to over winter but many species are hardy garden varieties thanks to determined breeders such as Lewis Palmer in the 1940s. He raised one of the earliest varieties – Headbourne Hybrids which are still widely available today.   Alan Bloom later bred several named cultivars in the 1950s and 70s of these Bressingham Blue with its dark violet-blue flat salver shaped flowers reaching 40cm tall is a favourite. Another recent cultivar is the stunning white ‘Arctic Star’ (see below) raised by Lady Bacon in the 1980s.

Avoid sitting agapanthus in very wet soil but any ground with reasonable drainage and in an open sunny position will suit. They also look lovely in generous sized terracotta pots -as tall and wide as the anticipated height of the plant when in bloom -is a good guide to size. Water regularly whether in the ground or in pots and give a feed with a general fertiliser in spring.

The only way to propagate a named cultivar  is by division. Lift the plant from the ground or ease it gently out of the pot. Hold back the foliage to limit damage to the strappy green leaves and saw  through the middle of the plant. Re-pot or plant in the border immediately, water and give a feed.

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My pop up greenhouse if filling up nicely. I lined some of the shelves with bubble wrap and I’ll keep the white fleece outer cover on for another week or two. It’s snug and light in there and provided we don’t have severe night frosts I think the more tender courgettes, tomatoes, beans and squash will be fine.  It’s surprising that we are half way through April and in five weeks these plants can go in the ground. I am enjoying my sunny windowsill on the top floor and that plus the large heated propagator has allowed me to get ahead.

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Two pots of crocuses outside the kitchen door are looking lovely. I bought them late last season 50p for 20 and planted and forgot about them. They burst into bloom ten days ago and I’m really enjoying the burst of colour.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2013 12:04 pm

    Hi Sue, Agapanthus has to be one of my all-time favourite plants. I just can’t resist buying a new culitvar if I see one at a show and my last couple of purchases have been ‘inarpertus’ varieties which have delightfully drooping flowers. Just about to divide a large clump (with a hefty kitchen knife) that I bought years ago at Pine Cottage Plants (Agapanthus heaven in Eggesford, Devon) which have prolifically flowered every summer for the last 15 years. Looking forward to sharing bits of the clump with friends and neighbours.

    • April 18, 2013 12:08 pm

      Yes I love them. I will check out Pine Cottage Plants since off to Devon soon.

      • April 18, 2013 12:13 pm

        It’s a wonderful nursery-walking into their polytunnel in summer is like being in Agapanthus Nirvana. I always buy plants for clients from this nursery too and their plants have flowered every summer without fail. A very high quality grower!

  2. April 18, 2013 8:45 pm

    I do love agapanthus but I have very little success growing them – I suspect I’ve been putting them in the wrong places!

    • April 19, 2013 8:26 am

      They definitely require sun and I always give a feed in April. Then in June you should see plump, cream blades emerging in the middle which burst into a flower in July/August.

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