A moderately controversial opinion, in New Zealand at least

The convolvulus is potentially a bigger problem than the agapanthus

We like roadside agapanthus in our area. The sight of blue and white in abundance is a summer pleasure. It has become one of our wildflowers.

Why controversial? I have watched comments on Twitter in recent weeks, railing against the horrors of agapanthus and what a ghastly plant and flower it is. This happens every summer. One tweeter even declared that ‘nobody born after 1972 can bear agapanthus’. At least, I think it was 1972, or thereabouts – presumably the birth year of the tweeter. Reader, I was born somewhat before 1972 and it felt like an ageist attack.

                I grow old

                I grow old

                I shall watch my agapanthus blooms unfold

I get that some people don’t like agapanthus and that it isn’t the world’s greatest plant to inherit en masse in a garden. What I don’t understand is the level of visceral hostility, the intensity of emotion expended on a plant that is moderately benign and consistently blooms in summer. I don’t engage in these Twitter diatribes but I did want to ask what they would prefer to see – mown or sprayed roadsides bereft of flowering weeds? Did they think agapanthus worse than convolvulus, montbretia, woolly nightshade, fennel, chicory, kniphofia, hydrangeas, canna lilies, pampas grass or many other plants that escaped onto our roadsides? Why single out agapanthus?

These plants are likely to stay on the roadside, rather than moving across the fence onto farmland

Given the huge amount of agapanthus we have naturalised in our area, I can say that I have not seen it invading farmland. It is not like pampas, woolly nightshade or montbretia which will colonise new territory the moment your back is turned. Because the seed is so large, it doesn’t spread itself around on wind and does not appear to be spread by birds. Nor does it spread below ground so it doesn’t tick the invasive boxes in our book. It increases from the base rhizomes and by seed but the heavy seed drops near the plant. It can be spread by water so maybe take care and eliminate by waterways and drains if you are worried about spreading it further. We get out and deadhead our roadside agapanthus.

Agapanthus used to be promoted because it is such an easy-going plant, tolerant of full sun and shade and it is useful in retaining loose soils on banks which could slip if left bare. It is not caustic and it is pest-free. It isn’t an exciting plant when not in flower, but I welcome that expanse of blue and white blooms in summer. I guess it is that very adaptability that has made it a pariah, a noxious weed, some declare, that needs to banned, NZ’s worst weed, even, in some eyes.

Showing my age, apparently, I have agapanthus in the garden

I like it enough to have selected a good dark blue form from the roadside which I brought into an area of the summer gardens where tree roots made the ground somewhat inhospitable for choicer perennials. After all, I was born before 1972. I deadhead after flowering before the seed has ripened, putting the spent flower heads in deep shade (not the compost heap) and we root prune the clumps in winter to stop them getting too large. But then, I also like wild fennel enough to have used that in the summer borders, too.

If you do happen to have giant clumps in your garden that you want to get rid of, you need to understand that it is immune to the common herbicides you can buy over the counter. It is most likely you will need to dig it out but don’t make the mistake of trying to dig it all out in a massive clump. First sharpen your spade. A sharp edge makes a huge difference. Then start slicing through the clump from the outside, removing it in manageable pieces. It is not deep rooted and the base of the clump (the rhizome) and the roots are fleshy, so easy to slice.

Don’t put the bits straight on the compost heap because most will grow again. Cut the leaves off – those can be composted. If you are doing it in high summer – like now – turn the remains of the clump – all the white bits – upside down on a dry surface so the roots face the sun and dry out. In cooler months you can stow it under cover so it dries or pile it in a black bin bag and lie that on concrete in the sun so it heats up and composts.  I have taken all of the above steps and it is not that hard.

Mark has just suggested that he thinks you could get away with slicing it off right at ground level (the rhizomes are usually sitting above the ground) and leaving the roots behind. It is not like alstromeria, tradescantia or montbretia where every piece left behind will grow again. We haven’t tried this approach but if you want to, you may be able to achieve agapanthus elimination with a heavy knife or meat cleaver. Just go back and check from time to time that nothing is sprouting afresh.

We rate the montbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) as a worse weed than the agapanthus. It is certainly harder to control, let alone eradicate and it spreads like wildfire

There are many worse plants to eliminate than agapanthus but we are happy to stick with the plants we have and just keep them under control.

34 thoughts on “A moderately controversial opinion, in New Zealand at least

  1. tonytomeo

    What the heck?! Yes, that is a strange species for such animosity. I can only imagine that it must be a serious problem in some situations, although it is difficult to imagine. What is worse is that there are those who want some of the most aggressively invasive exotic species to be PROTECTED, and even reclassified as ‘natives’ now that they are naturalized here! Silver wattle and some of the brooms contribute to the combustibility of the forests here; but seriously, some people believe that such species have more right to be here than people do.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Tony! I was worried about your silence. Nice to see you back. I think the agapanthus issue is more about the number of home buyers who inherit massive clumps of it, to be honest. It is just a utility plant used too often. And if you are not an experienced gardener, trying to dig out one – or many – of those massive clumps is an issue if you have a blunt or inadequate spade and you think you have to dig it all out in one.
      We are pretty zealous in this country about invasive, introduced species even though that horse has bolted. They would never get protected. It is more about degrees of attempted elimination and banning plants at the source. There are a fair swag of plants that are illegal to produce and sell commercially in this country and some plants that local councils ban entirely so it is illegal to grow them. For example, we are not allowed the giant gunneras in our part of the country because it cost a great deal of money to kill out the plants that escaped into the wild. I don’t have a problem with that approach but I don’t see agapanthus in that class of weed.

      1. tonytomeo

        My original agapanthus came from a home that they needed to be removed from. The clump was too large and too crowded to bloom well. I removed it, split it, and shared it all over town, and other towns, and heck, some even went to Texas! This was back before I was in high school, and I still grow the same agapanthus, and have quite a bit of it here. A few years ago, I noticed an add on Craigslist for a ‘free’ colony of agapanthus that someone wanted removed. I took the colony, which made the previous owner happy, and split it into a few hundred pups for the landscape at the Presbyterian Church in town. It all worked out well. However, I doubt that such offers often work out. I think that if I put an add out for a ‘free’ colony of agapanthus now, that I would get any response. A neighbor tried it with a colony of Yucca. I really wanted the Yucca, but could not accommodate it. Nor did I have time to process it all.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        You can’t even give agapanthus away in this country!
        I am not a fan of yuccas generally. Some are downright dangerous with their spiky tips and they all seem to have enormous root systems deep beneath the ground.

      3. tonytomeo

        I was very surprised to read that some Yucca have become invasive in parts of Australia. each species of Yucca relies on a particular species of yucca moth for pollination. Without their specific moth, they should be unable to generate viable seed, which is why we only get seed here if we hand pollinate the flowers (which is a bit of work). Even species that are native to Southern California do not naturally generate seed here. It is probably just as well. Although some are easy to kill, some are very difficult to get rid of once established.

    2. Kim

      I personally am not a fan of Agapanthus. Where I am on Waiheke Island it is a fairly problematic weed especially on coastal cliffs. It outcompetes native seedlings that would otherwise grow much deeper roots and when we get heavy rain (I suppose not that often now due to climate change) the clumps can get so heavy that they cause slips. I can’t look at them in any other way now. I’d rather have Clivia!

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        Where it out-competes native seedlings, yes it is a huge issue and clivia are indeed classier in woodland gardens. But on otherwise barren roadside verges or sunny, clay banks? Agapanthus still has a role to play, I believe.

      2. tonytomeo

        Aggressive naturalization is a completely different problem that I had not considered. They can naturalize in some situations here, but not in such a manner that they become invasive or aggressive with native species. I can imagine that they could be a problem in certain situation, just as other species are problematic here.

  2. dinahmow

    I’m from an era that loved “Aggie’s pants” and love the (relatively) few I see here. The front border at our current house is massed crinum.I had planned to replace some with agapanthus…
    I wish our local council would replace the view-restricting palms at roundabouts with agapanthus!

  3. Angela

    I’m in your camp Abby, absolutely love agapanthus in all forms. In fact when I first arrived in NZ in 1974 aged 22 (easy maths) it was the first flower that stood out to me given they grew between the concrete barriers on Auckland’s southern motorway. We have a small country garden, just one acre, but there will always be room for them. When we find a stray clump we just unceremoniously yank it out and dump it “on” it’s new home and no fails. I also admit to a smug smirk when I see overseas examples carefully cosseted through winter. Did I just say that outloud? …oh well must be my age!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I remember the English visitors who asked about the ‘giant bluebells’ growing everywhere. For the life of me, I couldn’t think what they were talking about until I next drove out the gate and realised they were talking about agapanthus!

  4. Angela Hill

    Just returned from a Taranaki holiday and the agapanthus were the most beautiful sight while we drove around.
    Agree with you totally regarding crocosmia, there were drifts everywhere.
    Angela

  5. Thistles and Kiwis

    We moved to NZ from Europe 9 years ago, and I was amazed at the agapanthus growing wild everywhere. I was also born before 1972….I confess to liking them, all that beautiful blue and white – but they are invasive. The Botanic Gardens here in Wellington were doing a study to find agapanthus that we could grow in the garden that won’t spread as much.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      They are very strong growing and tough as old boots but that doesn’t make them invasive. The clumps get ever larger and seedlings will pop up around the parent plant but they don’t sucker below ground and appear metres away from the parent plant and the seed doesn’t spread far and wide because it is heavy and falls close to the plant. So, by definition, not invasive like so many other plants. Just super vigorous. Because they are much more prized as garden plants overseas, there are a lot of cultivars in existence that are more compact, less vigorous or sterile but I doubt there is much of a commercial market for them in this country.

  6. Kent

    We inherited a large area of agapanthus, which we have slowly reduced. Now down to a manageable bank. Not too hard but requires some effort. The benefits of agapanthus seem to outweigh any negatives, but for some anything not native is undesirable.
    Once again your sensible opinion and wide knowledge are appreciated.

  7. Robin Dowie

    I totally agree with you. It is lovely seeing it as you drive around the country in summer.

  8. Sarah

    It’s all relative, isn’t it? I’m from the UK and also cosset my agapanthus over the winter. What you regard as a weed, we delight in as an (almost) exotic! But I recall a NZ visitor exclaiming over the lovely sight of a pigeon in our garden, whilst we dislike the pigeons for trampling over our plants and generally making a mess. Pigeons do like agapanthus seeds though. I once watched a pigeon in our garden in winter jumping onto the stalks bearing seed heads in order to bash them down to ground level where he proceeded to eat the seeds!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That would be alarming behaviour by pigeons here because it would mean they would poo the seeds out across the countryside and spread it. But our native wood pigeon don’t seem to eat them and we don’t see it spread by that vector which is what spreads cherry trees across the countryside.

  9. Lisa P

    Yes I too love agapanthus, I have a beautiful fragrant agapanthus planted out on a steep roadside bank under big old macrocarpas in my garden, its possibly the “Fragrant Glen” variety. Its so easy to control weeds in them, being weedkiller resistant. Another benefit of course is their resistance to fire. I do think it is a pity how hell-bent that Auckland Council is on banning them, even previously “okay” ones like “Streamline” now being banned from sale. Personally, I just think they are going too far with their plant banning, especially their latest wave of it. I am born after 1972 yet still love them!

  10. Sue Trivett

    Agapanthus are beautiful. A joy to behold. One of the lasting memories of our tour around your amazing country. Long may they remain to flower amongst your roadside banks. We love them. Thank.you for allowing them to continue to brighten the luves of passersby. And yes, we were birn well before 1972!!

  11. Sue Londesborough

    I wish I could even grow Agapanthus well! I certainly don’t need to know how to get rid of it.😆

  12. bittster

    Thanks for making sense of it all! I recently discovered there are sorts which can be hardy here and I’ve been determined to add as many as I can. Early 1969 must explain it ;)
    Maybe someday they’ll be too common, but until that happens I will contentedly love all the photos you’ve shared!

  13. Christine Prebble

    They love them in the UK. When I was at the Hampton Flower Show in 2019, every second person who left the main floral marquee had purchased an agapanthus – which made me chuckle, given their weedy status here. I have a couple of clients who like the miniature forms.

  14. Everard Daniel

    I can’t believe this! In the UK we treasure our Aggie-panties (as my late mother called them) as such a lovely, valuable plant for super colour in the summer garden, especially with Hydrangeas. Wonderful blues and lasting for ages. Maybe it’s just you have too much of a good thing; relax and enjoy!
    Mind you, many people like our Rhododendron ponticum, which is a real ecological disaster, smothering all woodland flora, destroying our bluebell woods and preventing tree seedlings coming up to regenerate the woods. Do you have that severe problem?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is why I qualified my piece with ‘in NZ’! Familiarity does indeed breed contempt. R. ponticum is on the banned list here, presumably as a pre-emptive move because I have never even seen it here although there are plenty of ponticum hybrids available. In our relatively benign climate, we have weeds from all over the world threatening our native flora – many are escaped garden plants. In Taranaki, where we live, the two main giant gunnera species are totally banned – as in not even legal to be growing in the garden. They caused a big issue, settling in to naturalise on cliffs around the coast, choking out everything else. Eradicating it involved using rock climbers and, I think, helicopters.

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