Agapanthus or African lily are not just good looking flowers! With their stately elegance, they will also bring a little of touch of exotism to your garden.
Strictly available in blue or white, they however offer a good range of shades to choose from - from light blue to dark indigo blue and pure white to silver white with a hint of blue. Although they are not hardest plants to grow, they are also not the easiest and will need a little help and encouragement as they can be slow to establish. When they do however, the wait will have been worth it and you will be rewarded with amazing floral displays of large open flower heads from July to late August. These are also excellent used as cut flowers!
Agapanthus grow from rhizomes (not bulbs or tubers) and produce fleshy roots which like to be constricted. The leaves, depending on the variety can have different shapes and colours from light to dark green, grey-green and variegated. Like so many garden favourites, choose the right variety for your garden. If you’re unsure, agapanthus Africanus blue or white and blue giant are good hardy varieties and excellent plants to start you off. You can always grow the other varieties in pots and bring them indoors for winter care.
The best time to plant your agapanthus from bare root is from March to May. If planting agapanthus in pots, use a mixture of soil and compost mixed with a little sand and grit to help drainage. Agapanthus like a well drained soil/compost. Feed every couple of weeks with high potash feed, or at least once a month when you see the green shoots appear. Tomato fertilizer is excellent for this, although keep in mind that it is also important to add some general fertilizer as well to make sure the agapanthus plants receive the best nutrients you can give them.
If growing in the garden, follow the same feeding tips for growing in pots. Agapanthus are tolerant of salty winds and therefore make good coastal plants. Hailing from South Africa, they love the sun so plant them in a south facing position where they will produce stronger stems and more flowers over the years. Drought tolerant, they will however need some water at least twice a week. It is important that they are planted in a part of the garden that does not hold water as they do not like watterlogged soils. They are not hungry feeders but will reward you with a fabulous flower display. Always leave the leaves to die back naturally and leave until at least March before removing them as they will provide some protection to the crown of the agapanthus plants. A good mulch is required if you live in very cold areas. You can also plant non-hardy varieties in pots before sinking them just below soil level which will hide the pots. After flowering, remove them for winter. I have a few varieties in pots which I move around the garden to highlight different areas and plants.
They don’t suffer from major pests or disease and the taller varieties will do well in windy conditions.
Also known as ornamental onions alliums grow in fertile well-drained soil. Most prefer full sun with the exception of allium ursinum (wild garlic) that thrives in shady woodland settings. Alliums do not thrive in waterlogged ground so if your soil is poor dig in a well balanced fertiliser such as liquid seaweed.
Plant your alliums between September and the end of November. The larger varieties like allium Beau Regard should be planted around 15cm deep and approximately 15 to 20cm apart (allow around 10 to 20 bulbs per square meter). The smaller flowering allium, Allium Moly for example, can be planted around 10cm deep and 8cm apart. For the large flowering allium for the smaller flowering allium (allow around 40 to 75 per square meter).
Most alliums will do well in deep pots. Use a John Innes No.3 soil mixed with compost or garden soil with a little added grit. Underplanting with other plants will disguise the dying leaves that can look a little messy. Small hostas are good companions and will provide extra colour throughout the summer months.
To keep your alliums flowering year on year lift divide overcrowded clumps after two to three years. Removing any tiny new bulbs and plant them in pots of in the garden until the bulbs are mature. It will take a few years for these to develop into flowering size bulbs but the wait is worth it.
Trouble shooting Avoid poor flowering results by always unpacking your bulbs on arrival and storing them in a cool place until you’re ready to plant them
Planting your bulbs too shallowly or in wet, soggy soil will also result in poor flowering so do follow the planting advice carefully.
Allium bulbs and plants can be poisonous to cats and dogs. Most animals wouldn’t dream of nibbling them but do take care to protect your pets.
Potential problems, pests and diseases:
All bulbs from the onion family are susceptible to similar problems such as onion fly, onion white rot and mildew. If you're planting your alliums in your allotment for cut flowers it is important not to plant where onions were previously planted or close to onions in other beds. Slugs and snails are also problems for allium so provide some protection.