by Sue Gray
Agapanthus, to my mind, are one of the stars of the mid to late summer garden. Native to South Africa, they are no strangers to our shores, having been grown at Hampton Court as early as 1692*, but for much of the intervening period, they have been deemed only suitable as greenhouse specimens. However, there are many hardy varieties, particularly those that are deciduous.
Many years ago I managed to germinate some seeds of ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ – one of the most common, and hardy forms – and grew them on in a pot until they reached flowering size. Lulled in to a false sense of security following a few mild winters, I left the pot outside and in the following ‘bad’ winter, like many other people I lost them. Although they are a hardy form, I think we must have had a very wet spell followed by freezing temperatures, which is the ‘death knell’ for so many pot grown plants.
Having heard Steve Hickman from Hoyland Plant Centre, one of the National Collection Holders of Agapanthus, speak about their capabilities as a border plant, I decided to give them a try and they have done very well ever since, seeding themselves about, as can be seen in this image. (fig1) All the advice is that, to grow in the ground, they need well drained, moisture retentive soil, conditions that it is deemed much easier to provide if the bulbs are grown in pots, but mine seem to thrive in the open ground.
We are always told that Agapanthus flower better if ‘pot bound’. Of course, in open ground they are hardly likely to become pot bound, but Steve Hickman’s recommendation is that, when planting a pot of Agapanthus in the garden, assuming that they are in a plastic pot, cut the bottom out of the pot but leave the sides; that way, the roots can get out into the soil but the bulbs will still feel congested, so start to flower. When the clump has become too big for the pot it will split the plastic, but the bulbs will have got used to flowering.
Agapanthus usually come in shades of blue and white; there are a number of varieties with ‘purple’ in their name but they appear to be hard to tell apart from many of the very dark blue forms. At this year’s Tatton Park Flower Show a new variety was exhibited, ‘Poppin Purple’, which would appear to be a truer purple.
There are a number of forms with variegated foliage, ‘Silver Moon’ being one of them, (fig 2) and many named varieties. My own personal favourite is ‘Navy Blue’ which, as the name suggests has a very dark blue flower, and grows to 60-80cms, Another form that comes highly recommended is ‘Lapis Lazuli’ – a compact variety that grows to 40-60coms. (fig 3).
In the past I have struggled to keep the white varieties but now, thanks to two very generous HPS friends, I have some growing well. Blue and white flowering plants go with almost any other colour, but I think that the blue forms associate particularly well with orange and yellow flowered plants. Here they are seen growing with Crocosmias ‘Limpopo’ AGM to the left and ‘Okavango’ to the right. (fig 4).
With thanks to Peter Williams for images 2 & 3, and reference to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine*
Other images courtesy of Sue Gray