Tag Archives: climbing lily

THE FINAL In the garden this fortnight: Thursday 5 July, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission. However, as I have now parted company from that publication, this will be the final in this particular series.

Gloriosa superba in summer

Gloriosa superba in summer

The comments about lilies in issue 339 reminded me that I needed to thin our Gloriosa superba. While these are often referred to as climbing lilies, they aren’t a lily at all, being an entirely different family. But they are a wonderful summer flower and very obliging at growing in parched, dry conditions in the front, sunny border under the eaves of the house. There are not a lot of plants that like those conditions. The tubers are very curious. As they get bigger, they grow into large V shapes and they find their own depth in the soil – sometimes very deep down. I do not understand how they do it. It is hard not to envisage them wriggling down. If they are happy, they can multiply a bit too readily and seed down as well. I dug out a bucket of spares from a short border. They are difficult to dig out without breaking them and if you lose both tips, they are no longer any good and will just rot.

Gloriosa superba tubers

Gloriosa superba tubers

These tubers come into growth in late spring. The stems need some support because they get about a metre long before they put up a succession of odd reflexed flowers in orange-red and yellow tones which look for all the world like a coronet. They lack any fragrance but they are an excellent cut flower and the season lasts months through summer. Curiously, they are the national flower of both Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.

Top Tasks

1) Rose pruning. We like our roses to flush early here so that they are in full flower for our annual garden festival at the end of October. Being country residents, we are still allowed an incinerator and I pile up the prunings beside it so they can dry and then be burned.

2) I prefer to keep most of our roses in one area of the garden rather than spread throughout. After pruning, I rake out fallen leaves around the plants because these can harbour disease and then follow up with a mulch of fresh compost.

3) Carry my wire brush with me in my gardening basket. While the lichen growth we get here is apparently a sign of very clean air, we can end up with too much moss and lichen in our humid climate. I find it much easier to do a little often, rather than trying to clean entire areas at once. I have stonework, concrete, brickwork and plant trunks in my sights.

Flowering this week: Gloriosa superba

Summer glory in Gloriosa superba

Commonly called the glory lily, flame lily or climbing lily, this plant should be recognised by all ex-pat Zimbabweans and some Indians. Oddly enough, it originates in both areas and is the national flower of Zimbabwe and also accorded special status in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. It is only a very distant relative of the lily, being a member of the colchicum family and because it is full of the chemical colchicine, all parts of the plant are poisonous. Colchicine is used to double the chromosomes in plant cells and is highly toxic in concentrated form. Not that I have ever seen anybody want to eat gloriosas.

The plants grow from V shaped tubers which will survive in very dry, sandy conditions so we use them in the narrow dry house border facing north where very little else but succulents will grow. They are winter dormant and never get watered, even in summer. The tubers find their own required depths and can end up quite some distance below ground.

Gloriosa is a good cut flower, lasting well in a vase though the pollen can stain. But look at the flower shape. It opens conventionally enough but then the petals reflex entirely (in other words they all bend backwards) leaving the anthers and stamens completely exposed. Sometimes the petals can be so recurved that it looks like a full crown with fringe. The colours are always in the yellow/orange/red spectrum and the most desirable forms tend to be those with the sharpest yellow and dark red contrast. It is not particularly rare in this country, so you should be able to find gloriosas if you want them and they are an ideal plant for sandy, coastal gardens.