Agapanthus

The Nile lily is a real joy that looks super-stylish in the summer garden.

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Agapanthus are currently riding a tidal wave of horticultural popularity and rightly so as they are one of the star performers of summer borders and containers. Agapanthus hail from South Africa, and grown in UK gardens since A. praecox was introduced in 1687. The last 20 years there has seen an incredible array of new varieties, particularly from British breeder Dick Fulcher, among others.

Agapanthus are fleshy-rooted clump-forming perennials. From a gardener’s perspective agapanthus are divided into two groups, deciduous types, which lose their leaves in winter and which are the hardiest and the semi-evergreen to evergreen types, which retain leaves, and are more tender, and best given a protective mulch in winter, especially in cold gardens. Habits vary immensely from short miniatures with fine leaves, just 12-18in high, to 7ft giants, with strap-like foliage. The main flowering period is July and August, but later, often larger varieties can flower into September and October. Flowers, which appear in loose umbels, vary in colour from near black, a current focus of breeding, through purple, grey-blue, Royal blue to white. Some are bicoloured or have a median blue line down each petal. Some recent introductions also sport pink tinges to petals, and we can expect to see more of this trait. Flowers are usually flared trumpets or pendant tubes as in the distinctive A. inapertus pendulus.

Agapanthus make great container plants, but to flower reliably they need growing in isolation, rather than in mixed plantings. They also need to settle and form sizeable clumps, eventually allowed to become pot-bound. Newly potted plants usually produce foliage at the expense of flowers. The same goes for plants in borders. They need space, light and air to develop, rather than being over-topped or shaded by other perennials, when they will remain leafy, with few blooms. They will grow in most moist, well-drained soils, requiring sun or light shade, again flowering reduced the shadier it is. They like a dressing of compost working into the soil and a spring dressing of a balanced high-potash fertiliser.

Agapanthus can be grown from seed, but varieties won’t be true to type. Division of the clump is the best method, lifting in spring or early summer or early autumn after flowering, separating the clump into rooted sections with 2-3 growth points.