Clivias sure do light up a dark spot at this time of the year, for those of us who live in climates where they grow. This is not a family that will take much at all in the way of frost, though their preference for shaded, woodland conditions gives some protection against cold.
I used to quote Mark’s quip that if somebody wanted to be an expert in a particular plant, hellebores would be an easy family to choose. But as long as you are patient, clivias beat them hands down for simplicity. There are only about six different species to learn and they are dead easy to grow and care for, presenting few technical challenges. The drawback is that it takes much patience as they take several years before they reach flowering size. So if you are wanting to try and hybridise for different blooms or even just to raise plants from seed, you need to be prepared to wait.
Most of the plants in our garden are C. miniata seedlings and this is by far the most common type of clivia available. It is what gives the big heads of blooms. We have quite a few, and almost as many again hanging around in pots waiting to be planted out. Less resilient plants would be dead by now. While I think they are wonderful focal points of colour in shady areas which are lush and green, I think one can have too many orange clivia, even too many clivia. But then we have always gone for the mix and match of a variety of plants to create a more natural effect rather than uniform blocks of one colour as favoured by mass planting landscapers. They combine particularly well with ferns.
I headed out with my flower basket to gather a single flower from a range of plants around the garden, feeling a little as if I was doing a geriatric Milly-Molly-Mandy impersonation. Given that ours are almost all seedlings, I was a little surprised at how consistent the flowers are when I started sorting them by colour. The variations are… subtle, shall we say?
To the right, we have the ones that age to red. Do not be like the novice gardener I heard of who ordered a swag of expensive red clivia for a mass planting in her ‘designed’ garden. They opened orange, so she dug them all back up again, complained and wanted them replaced. We have not seen clivia that actually open to pure red – some age to red.
On the left, very battered by bad weather, are a couple of examples of blooms heading to what are called the peach tones. Like many other clivia enthusiasts, Mark has been playing around crossing different plants to try and extend the colour range and the peachy ones are certainly different to the yellows which are the comparator. We have yet to acquire any of the green throated clivia which would add a worthwhile variant.
A recent newspaper article referencing the very recent green clivias had Mark snorting. He is not a fan of green flowers at all, but a net search for images shows that they are more white clivias with green markings which is a great deal more interesting.
Why is Mark sniffy about green flowers? It is because he is first and foremost a gardener so he assesses plants on garden performance and appearance. And when the most dominant colour in a garden is invariably green, he sees no merit in green flowers. They meld into the surroundings. Take the green orchid, Satyrium odorum. I had to pick them because I had no hope of getting a clear photo of them in the garden. They have an interesting, strong, cinnamon scent but are insignificant as garden plants. If we hadn’t been given a whole lot of them, I wouldn’t be bothering with them.
Earlier articles include a step by step guide to how to dig and divide clivias and a short piece on seed colour and future flower colour. To save you having to google the basic details, clivias are native to southern Africa and Swaziland, evergreen, used to growing with low light levels and belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. Over time (many years), they can get quite large – well over a metre in diameter and the same in height. Clive-ea or clivvia? We pronounce it clive-ea because it was named for a member of the Clive family, but it is probably optional.