Agapanthus produce blooms to die for, but they need TLC to survive the winter, writes David Overend.
Agapanthus (the Greek for “love flower” and also known as the lily of the Nile) produces clusters of gorgeous blooms in blue, white or violet. They may grow almost wild in warmer climes but, although here in the UK many may still be still flowering (just), they need a certain amount of tender, loving care to see them safely through winter.
Agapanthus are herbaceous perennials originating from southern Africa and come in both deciduous and evergreen forms; surprisingly, the evergreen varieties are generally the most tender.
But that doesn’t deter British agapanthus lovers who devote a great deal of time, money and energy into ensuring that their plants have the best conditions to flourish – and the best protection during the colder months.
Agapanthus thrive in fertile, well-drained, but moisture-retentive soil, in full sun. If you’re lucky enough to have such conditions – and live somewhere warm – plant crowns in spring, 5cm (2in) deep.
For the best blooms, feed weekly or fortnightly with a balanced liquid feed during the growing season until flowers begin to show colour. Water regularly during the growing season, but sparingly in winter. In autumn, mulch heavily (many fanatics tend to use straw) but remember to remove this cover next spring as new growth starts to push its way though the soil.
If you don’t have ideal conditions outdoors, grow agapanthus in large containers filled with John Innes No.2 or No.3 potting compost. Place in a light, dry, frost-free place in late autumn – a cold frame, greenhouse or conservatory – and overwinter them there before taking them outdoors again next year.
It’s a lot of work, and even then you are not guaranteed success. You may get masses of flowers; you may get masses of foliage; you may get neither, just a sense of disappointment.
But perseverance is essential if you want to succeed with these stunning flowers.
There are numerous agapanthus varieties available, but if you want a big, big deep blue, try growing “Blue Giant” which produces enormous blooms on top of four-foot-high stems.
For something slightly less in-your-eye there’s “Lavender Haze” with its giant, 25cm (10in) flower heads, in a soft lavender.
And as for white, well, the name “White Heaven” tells it all, although it grows to just a mere three feet in height.