Sunday, March 16, 2014

Faking it

Gloriosa superba

Perhaps the most mis-used word in gardening is “lily”.  All sorts of plants are described as lilies, even though the majority of them have no botanical connection to the true lilies.  Perhaps in this context, the world “lily” just means “great looking flower that usually comes from a bulb” – or something like that.
Having said that, there are some lovely bulbous flowers out at the moment, including the stunning climbing plant, the “Gloriosa Lily’, Gloriosa superba.  There can be few flowers that are so well named, being both glorious and superb.
This is one that definitely is not related to the true lilies – in fact, it is in the same family as the autumn crocus, colchicums.  Like the colchicums they are toxic if eaten, so a little care needs to be taken with them.  They are a rather curious plant, thriving when well suited – in fact, in frost-free situations in free drain in and dry soils can even become a bit of a nuisance, seeding and establishing  too well.  They grow from a round tuber that turns V-shaped as it ages, eventually growing up to a metre long. 
From these extended tubers a succession of wonderfully coloured flowers will appear, superbly reflexed and in shades of orange-red and yellow.  This little climber (it will grow a bit more than a metre high)  makes a very dramatic addition to the summer and autumn garden, although it does struggle with our colder a little.   Find it a warm spot in the garden, or even in a deep pot, and you should have a glorious and superb flower.
At the moment the pots on our back patio that could be used to grow some Gloriosa are filled with some “Blood Lilies” – Haemanthus coccineus.  In keeping with the theme of this article, these are not actually lilies at all – they are South African members of the Amaryllis family, growing narturally in the summer rainfall areas of southern Africa.
I grow two species of the peculiar flowers.  The first, H. albiflos, is fully evergreen, with strap-like leaves that part in the summer to show flower heads that are basically a giant boss of stamen, with sepals guarding white stamen, tipped with gold.  The second species, H. coccineus is altogether  more dramatic.  Its large strappy leaves die off in the early summer, and the plant just shows the top of the bulbs over summer.  But come the start of March the bulb tips slowly part and a red flush is seen appearing.  Within a few weeks, these have lengthened and the bright scarlet spathe valves open  top shows golden-tipped coloured stamen, bearing  a striking resemblance to a coloured shaving brush.
They can be grown in warm and sheltered sites in the garden but my clump has been happily growing in a pot for the past twenty years and has flourished.

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