Alluring Agapanthus - The Lily of the Nile
Wednesday, 2 August 2017 | Alison
If you are looking to add a touch of the exotic to your mid-summer borders and pots then look no further than the Agapanthus. Also known as the African lily and The Lily of the Nile, this elegant plant is neither a lily nor from the River Nile but originates from the cliff tops of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
The name Agapanthus comes from the Greek words agape, meaning love, and Anthos, meaning flower, so it has long been a plant associated with love.
Agapanthus are showy perennial plants with huge rounded heads of funnel-shaped, mostly blue, flowers set atop strong but flexible stalks, making them ideal for windy spots, and, as they are tolerant of salty air, are perfectly at home in a coastal location. The clump forming leaves are strap-shaped and a strong deep green colour and in themselves are an attractive base around the flowers, setting them off to a tee.
The flowers are usually in shades of blues and whites from the deepest blues, almost violet, colours of Agapanthus ‘Northern Star’ and Agapanthus ‘Purple Delight’ to the whitest of whites with Agapanthus ‘Arctic Star’ and Agapanthus ‘Albus’. There are many shades in between too like Agapanthus ‘Queen Mum’ with white flowers and blue hearts. There are varieties with variegated leaves and heights vary too, with one of the tallest, Agapanthus ‘Bue Giant’ at around 1.2m (4ft) to the smallest ones at around 25cms, like Agapanthus ‘Peter Pan’. There is really such a good choice, there is bound to be an agapanthus to suit your site and situation.
There are two main types of Agapanthus, evergreen and deciduous and neither likes to be waterlogged either in the garden or when in containers, so always add grit to your compost mixture to help with drainage. Agapanthus plants, despite their extravagant appearance, are easy to grow and are pest & disease free, so what’s not to like. Often seen at their best growing in larger pots as statement plants they are ideally suited to a sunny well-drained site. The rather fleshy rhizome roots can easily be divided in late autumn or early spring if they have outgrown their position in either pots or in the garden border.
The evergreen agapanthus are generally the more tender ones so are often grown in pots and will thank you for a little protection of fleece wrapped around the pot and a bark mulch if temperatures really plummet. Use pot feet so that excess water can drain away. The deciduous agapanthus plants are the ones where the leaves die back during the winter months and then regrow the following year. This foliage can be cut back once it dies and mulch applied to protect the crown. Feed with a high potash feed in the spring.
If you are growing agapanthus in pots they are fabulous just on their own and you can watch them grow throughout the season until the flowers emerge in mid-late July and continue flowering for some weeks to be replaced with gorgeous seed heads. These can be left on the plant to either collect some seeds or until they finally look too straggly to look beautiful in the morning frosts.
Garden pathways can be edged with agapanthus plants forming a dramatic hedge effect and I have seen them used around the base of an old olive tree, admittedly this was in the south of France, but it looked enchanting.
Used in a mixed border, clumps of agapanthus look stunning when combined with the bright oranges and reds of Crocosmia and planted with taller grasses catching the breeze in the background you can create a very contemporary look.
So if you have been tempted to give an agapanthus a home, either blue or white, you too can create your own alluring area of agapanthus. You will be so glad you did.