The most special plants flowering in our garden this week are the Worsleya procera (syn. W. rayneri) and they are not only special because they have the wonderful common name of Empress of Brazil (which tells you where they come from). They are also extremely rare in cultivation, a very beautiful lilac-blue in colour and generally regarded as almost impossible to grow as garden plants. We have two growing in different positions in the garden where they are just left to their own devices with no special treatment at all. When we had an international tour of clivia enthusiasts through, a number were also bulb aficionados and they were genuinely impressed that we could grow and flower this choice bulb in the garden. They are usually grown as really pernickety container plants. True, our flower spikes do not match the 150cm in height that they are reputed to reach, but the flowers are large and a most unusual colour in the bulb world.
There is only one species of worsleya but if you go back a step to the extended family, they are related to hippeastrums, crinums and amaryllis. Apparently in Brazil, they grow on steep granite cliffs beside waterfalls (where it is hard to imagine a flower spike of 150cm) but our garden conditions in no way resemble the natural habitat. The foliage is really interesting, arching in a semi circular, sickle fashion. These bulbs are not for the impatient gardener. Mark was standing looking at one of ours with Auckland plantsman, Terry Hatch, who originally supplied it to us. They agreed that was a long time ago, maybe as much as eight years. Mark found the label and it was in fact fifteen years. It had taken thirteen years to flower the first time. Time flies, apparently, when you are a gardener. Sadly, both ours are the same clone (one was an offset) and you need two different clones to get viable seed. Pukekura Park’s worsleya in the Fernery is not going to flower this year so if any local readers happen to have one in flower, we would love to swap pollen.