Summer-flowering angel’s fishing rod or fairy wand have an elegant charm all their own.
Angel’s fishing rod or dierama are one of those plants that always cause great excitement in the garden when their arching, wiry flower stems burst into bloom. They’re unlike any other flowering plant we grow in our garden, and their distinctive character makes them ideal for poolside plantings or dotting among other grassy plants.
These semi-evergreen perennials from South Africa grow from small corms, rather like crocosmia, producing a sheaf of narrow blue-green foliage about 1-3ft in height, depending on species and variety. Wiry wands appear in July, till early September, arching like an over-stressed fishing rod as the bell-shaped blooms successively start to open along its length. Flowers come in shades of pink, purple, coral and white, with flower sizes again varying from species to species, but usually 60-75mm (21/2-3in) across. There are also pale-yellow flowered species, but these are rarely seen in UK gardens.
Slieve Donard hybrids are one of the earliest selections, created in the 1950s and 1960s by the Slieve Donard nursery in County Down, Northern Ireland, but more recent breeding has seen the King Arthur series, named after various characters of the myth, start to become popular.
Angel’s fishing rods need space to allow the airy flower stems to have impact, and look dramatic if planted in a drift in a gravel garden or open border. They also look effective by a pool, but don’t want to be planted as a marginal in wet soil. Ideally, they prefer a fertile, moist, well-drained soil, but don’t like drought, which causes the leaves to die back, or wet, waterlogged conditions in winter, which causes corms to rot. Plant nursery-grown clumps in late winter or early spring, but remember they take time to establish and flower reliably. They also take time to settle after lifting and dividing, the only way to reliably propagate named varieties, either in late winter, or after flowering in late summer. Species are easily grown from seed under glass in spring, taking a couple of years to grow to planting size, and around five years to flower. As leaves look rather bedraggled by the end of the year carefully clean out dead stems which tend to congregate with a hand rake in early spring.