Tag Archives: alstromerias

Alstromerias

Edited: after information received yesterday, I realised I had a senior moment and some of the information in the original post was incorrect.

I don’t have a big collection of alstromerias and the tall ones can be bothersome as garden plants but I do quite like them. When I gathered them up, I seem to have about ten different ones, all ‘acquired’ as I say. This is not a plant family I have felt the need to go out and buy.

Why bothersome? They have a tendency to spread if left to their own devices. Some may call them invasive. They are difficult to eradicate because any parts of the fleshy tubers left behind will grow again. But the big problem is that the tall ones that I favour need staking. The stems are rarely strong enough to hold them up on their own.

I don’t like the murky pink with yellow thrid from the left but the remaining ones are all pretty

Alstromerias are much favoured as a cut flower, but I don’t often cut flowers to bring indoors. Every window in our house looks out onto gardens so it seems a bit unnecessary to bring flowers indoors to die. We don’t feel the need of house plants either. Alstros are sometimes called Peruvian lilies and the family tree does trace back to the lily group but their homeland is not limited to Peru. There are many different species found widely throughout South and Central America. The ever-handy Wikipedia tells me that most of our garden plants are hybrids between winter-growing species from Chile and summer-growing species from Brazil. They certainly have a long flowering season.

Some years ago, the ‘Princess lilies’ group hit the shelves in plant shops here and I sniffily dismissed them as part of the dwarfing down of fine big plants to make something like traffic island bedding plants. I never even bothered to look at them. Then I was given a white form and my dismissive attitude continued but I divided it up and planted it out. For the next two years, they still looked like tidy, traffic island, bedding plants to me. I didn’t like them and I still don’t. *Dot plants*, to coin a phrase from early Alan Titchmarsh.

Intermediate-sized ‘Summer Sky’ at the back, a ‘Princess lily’ at the front

Until yesterday, I thought my intermediate-sized white alstros that were delighting me this summer were that Princess series dot plant putting itself on steroids. In self-defence, plants that are dwarf in different climates can surprise us in our benign conditions and romp away well beyond their predicted size. But it was a senior moment on my part. I had forgotten entirely that a gardening friend gave these to me last year. It turns out there is a whole other alstromeria series that has been released internationally – including NZ – and these are from the Paradise Summer series. This one is, apparently, ‘Summer Sky’.  They are an intermediate size and generally strong enough to hold themselves up.

‘Summer Sky’ from the Paradise Summer range

I looked up both the ‘Princess lily’ and  ‘Paradise Summer’ series and both seem to have come from Dutch breeders. No surprises there. The Dutch do a lot of plant breeding and especially in the area of flowers for floristry or mass plantings.

Probably ‘Indian Summer’ from the Paradise Summer range

Two gardening friends have waxed eloquent about the merits of an orange flowered one with burgundy foliage. I think it is probably ‘Indian Summer’ and likely the same as this one I photographed at RHS Wisley some years ago. I can see it is an excellent performer but I think it is a bit garish, a bit ‘look at me! Look at me!’ for my taste. But maybe I could use it in the sunny borders. It is from the Paradise Summer series too. I may have to take a closer look at the other selections available in this group because there is a whole range of colours now available.

Finally, two bits of advice about alstromerias. Firstly, they benefit from being deadheaded. As long as your plant is well rooted in the ground, the advice from the professionals is to grab the spent flowering stem and tug the whole thing out of the ground rather than cutting it. The same goes for picking them. It is easier than cutting each stem and it leaves a cleaner plant.

Secondly, plant the tall varieties in groups, not drifts. I managed to get around all my clumps in the twin borders this year with stakes (forked pieces of dead yew branches in this case which become invisible, unlike bamboo stakes) and that has largely worked well to keep the flowers up. Where I planted them in drifts in the Iolanthe garden they are chaotic. Zach asked me recently if I had any advice on how to stake them and I didn’t. As soon as it rains, we will dig them and consolidate them into clumps that can be staked.

There is always room for improvement in gardening.

The pink is an alstromeria and when viewed close up, it is a sprawling mess that defeats any staking, let alone invisible staking

The tall and the short of it

I struggle to appreciate bedding plants. I really do. To me, they belong in dated floral clocks and on traffic islands. Maybe in the occasional garden bed in public gardens to appeal to older folks who have not updated their ideas since the 1960s.

I don’t have many photos on file of bedding plants but these two are from RHS Wisley, south of London and they are certainly not representative of 99% of those magnificent gardens. But there are requirements for such places to be all things to all people. That Is Enid Blyton’s Famous Five clipped amongst the blue which speaks volumes about the age demographic for that particular garden. To this day, it worries me that George on the right looks from behind as if he is having a pee.

Mark is inclined to dismiss the scaling down of plants, rendering them more suitable for suburban gardens. Our garden is anything but suburban but, by all means, if your garden is smaller and you crave a suburban look, stack it with these compact versions of the original. He doesn’t often name-drop, my Mark, and usually only in private but he reminded me that he had discussed this very matter with the late Beth Chatto when we met her and she was in complete agreement with him. He felt vindicated.

The compact form of helianthus is a named variety, though I have mislaid the name.
The larger form of helianthus, rangy, brittle but with a grace and presence I prefer

I was thinking about this because the helianthus are in full bloom. One day they were just the promise of buds showing, the next day they were in flower – one of the last of the summer glories. The common sunflower is a member of the helianthus family. Until this year, I had only seen the compact form of helianthus bloom here and very showy it was. Then my gardening friend, Susan, gave me some of a large form which I put into the Court Garden. I had been waiting for it to bloom, worrying as some of the outer stems snapped off from their weight. It is not a tidy plant, but look at it. It is glorious in its late summer raiment of garish yellow. I love it at this time of the year. And I love the big, rangy form, brittle though it is, more than the tidy, compact form.

The carpet of blue asters which I refer to as ‘the Kippenberg aster’ because I will never commit its full name to memory

Don’t get me wrong; the scaled down version is very good and it has its place in the garden but the bigger, more open form delights me more. The lower version is knee-high on me, the taller one is shoulder height. So, too with the asters. I have used the compact little blue carpet aster which I think bears the full name of “Aster novi-belgii ‘Professor Anton Von Kippenberg’ “ – sounds like those extended names given to miniature horses. In fact I have two carpets of it in the Wave Garden where it is much loved by the bees and the butterflies. I say carpets because, at its best, the plants form a carpet of blue at about 30cm high.

We have a number of taller asters and this gentle cloud of small blue flowers is likely a species, or close to it, It is certainly less obedient but I like its grace and lightness in the garden.

I haven’t come to grips with the aster species (Michaelmas daisies) but Kippenberg is either a dwarf species selection or a dwarf hybrid, probably the latter. The other asters we grow are much taller and rangier – think chest or even shoulder height and I have used them more extensively because they blend well with other plants rather than being best as a mass carpet.

I have noticed with both the aster and the helianthus that the dwarf versions mass flower in one hit. All the blooms open at once, which is very showy but once they are over, that it is for the season. The rangier, taller versions set flowers down the stems which come out in sequence and so give a longer season in bloom.

We only have one dwarf dahlia and it is banished to an insignificant spot
We do, however, have plenty of these larger growing types and our preference is for single blooms

I am not sure about dwarf dahlias. Years ago we were given a little red one and while it is a tidy little plant and it blooms well, I do not find it charming. I much prefer its larger, less controlled relatives.

So too with alstroemerias. Yes, the big ones can be problematic. They need support and they are inclined to spread rather enthusiastically. Unless you dig out every last bit of their fleshy roots, they also stage a second coming. But I like them.

Very (very) compact. Barely ankle height.

I was given one of the compact new dwarf varieties. Okay, it flowers very well over an extended period and it is easy to divide and increase. But it is so stunted, to my eyes. So… tidy. I don’t dislike it so much that I have dug it out – yet – but I would never buy one.

It comes down to taste and garden style in the end. We have plenty of space. In smaller gardens, just beware of stacking too many of these tidy, compact, scaled-down versions in unless you like the traffic island look at home.

If you only have a small area and are looking for inspiration on how to create a garden that is less suburban and constrained in style, you may enjoy having a look at Christchurch gardener, Robyn Kilty’s site. She has managed to fill her small spaces with a garden that looks deceptively free, graceful and exuberant while not being wild or out of control at all. It takes more skill to garden in this style but it can be done in smaller spaces.

Look at all the buds still to open down the stems of the helianthus