From foxgloves* to foxtail lilies – eremurus

Eremurus - but in Yorkshire not Tikorangi

Eremurus – but in Yorkshire not Tikorangi

We don’t have foxes in New Zealand. In that huge modification of our environment that took place with the early settlers in the 1800s, we were at least spared those. True, we could have done without the bunny rabbits, the possums, deer, goats, many common
garden slugs and snails and assorted other introductions, but foxes we did not get.

This is by way of introducing the so-called foxtail lily, which we don’t have here in the warmer north although plants are sold and no doubt perform well the further south one gardens. I imagine they are perfect in Central Otago. I photographed these in the cutting garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire last June, so in early summer. I had not seen them before and I wondered why we were not growing them. Having Mark at my side is akin to a resident technical advisor and he immediately commented that he had tried growing them (of course he had, how could I have doubted that?) but they don’t like our conditions.

The reason eremurus don’t like our conditions is that in their native habitat, stretching from north eastern Europe across western and central Asia to China, they have good drainage, especially in winter and winter chill. They also need full sun. These are areas we might describe as cold climate deserts and the other common name for eremurus is desert candles. No desert here in Tikorangi.

Eremurus are deciduous perennials in the asphodeloideae family, growing from fleshy root systems. Their growth is rapid and their season is short – again indications of a harsh climate. There are a fair number of different species which I have not unravelled (somewhere over 60 of them, according to Wiki) as well as hybrids. Some will put up flower spikes to 3 metres of more, so as a cut flower they might be better suited to the baronial hall than the domestic living room. I would hazard a guess that modern hybridists have set about breeding more compact forms, allegedly better suited to edging suburban gardens in the same manner that handsome alstromeria, eryngiums, zinnias and many other plants have been scaled down to compact little clumps. I have yet to see any that are improved by this treatment but if you have the right conditions, full-sized eremurus are a handsome delight. They also come in white and pink and any number of colour combinations between those and the oranges and yellows.

The cutting or picking garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire

The cutting or picking garden at Mount St John in Yorkshire

* The foxglove reference is to the post immediately preceding this one.

6 thoughts on “From foxgloves* to foxtail lilies – eremurus

  1. phlip46

    Hi again, oh I so love these majestic creatures too.. I have tried to grow them here in rural Nelson but we are on Moutere clay so they definitely did not thrive or live! I adore perennials especially unusual ones and am in the process of building up good stocks of them in my perennial mail order nursery here at home. How I’d love to be able to establish these.. alas I have to adore them from afar!! Smiles..

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, some plants we just have to accept are not going to thrive here! Like paeonies and eremurus. Even our alchemilla mollis never looks as good as I see it in UK gardens. But that is what makes visiting gardens elsewhere interesting. Do you have your nursery list on line?

  2. Pat Webster

    I know from experience that they are VERY particular about drainage. I thought I had provided enough grit but sadly I hadn’t. They are gorgeous in bloom.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I recall writing about meconopsis – natural habitat is inclined to alpine desert conditions. In other words cold but dry. I guess eremurus, while not alpine, need that winter dry climate. They are certainly striking. They’d probably do very well in our Central Otago regions which have a continental climate which is a long way removed from what we have.

      1. Pat Webster

        Meconopsis is the signature plant of one of Quebec’s outstanding gardens, the Reford Gardens. When they flower, the display is like the sky is in bloom. The gardens are now run by a descendant of the original garden owner. In 2000 he started an international garden festival that is one of the best in the world. The garden and the festival are a long drive from my home but I try to make the trip every summer. It is worth it.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Maybe we will manage to get there one day. Our meconopsis take a lot of work to keep going in our climate but we love them. Such a glorious blue.

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