Tag Archives: Clivia miniata

The season of the clivia

img_5606Mid spring brings us vibrant clivias in bloom. The ”contemporary” or “landscaped” look is to block plant in a single colour so you may have a swathe of orange clivias with the yellow ones segregated in a different area. This is not our style, in a garden where we strive for far more of a naturalistic, woodland look – “enhanced nature” seems to be the latest descriptor for this style though it is not a term you are likely to see me using often. We like to blend our plantings and combine the clivias with ferns, astelias, bromeliads and any and all of the other plants we use as the understorey in our shady areas.

029-4This completely confused a self-described Auckland landscaper I once took around the garden. This must have been back in the 1990s when ambitious but unqualified young people who, in a previous generation would likely have done an apprenticeship, discovered they could earn more money by dispensing advice and services to the growing wealthy of our largest city. He patronised me all the way around the garden – landscapers, you understand, rated themselves further up the social scale than mere gardeners – and at the end pronounced his surprise that we didn’t grow any clivias. I may have a been a little tart when I pointed out he just hadn’t noticed them, for they are there in abundance.

Clivias are one of those plants that attracts aficionados and there is a club dedicated to this passion . I am not sure what these people are called – cliviaphiles (in the manner of snowdrop nuts who are called galanthophiles?) or would they be the less classy cliviaholics? Whatever, it is in part these clivia enthusiasts who are bringing us the expanded range, particularly in colour.

019-2The soft yellows are still a recent introduction but already widely grown, readily available and making a huge contribution in gardens. Extending the colours into peach tones is well underway and of late the combination of white and green in clivias represents another development. One can, when all is said and done, have too much orange in the garden (NABOC syndrome – Not Another Bloody Orange Clivia) whereas the option of other, softer shades can bring welcome variety and interest. If you covet red clivias, you need to be aware that they open orange and age to red. Do not be like the gardener I heard of who bought a swag of large red clivia plants at considerable expense. When the first ones opened orange, she dug them all out.

img_5485Considering the easy care nature of clivias, you may wonder why they are often relatively expensive to buy. It is all to do with time because they are slow to get established and to reach flowering size. In these days of instant gratification, most gardeners want plants that will perform and be showy in the garden from day one. In the case of clivias, be prepared to pay because it costs nurseries money to hold slow growing plants much longer to reach saleable size.

Clivias are easy to lift and divide if you have a big enough clump, although it will take a few years for smaller divisions to re-establish and reach flowering size. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of year you do it, though it is advisable to avoid the heat of summer. They are under storey plants in forest or bush so well able to cope with both low light levels and root competition. We can vouch for their ability to grow away even if you just spread the roots out on top of the ground and cover them with a thin layer of soil or even leaf litter. What they won’t take is wet feet or frost. They were not named for Clive of India, as I assumed. Apparently it was for Queen Victoria’s governess, the Duchess of Northumberland whose maiden name was Charlotte Clive. I don’t think she would ever have grown any in a Northumberland garden.

Clivia gardenii

Clivia gardenii

There are only six different species of clivias and some hybrids between these – called inter-specifics  –  but the showiest one that is most commonly seen in gardens is C. miniata. Most of the others have flowers in the form of tubular bells that hang loosely from the stem whereas miniata has bigger heads of clustered flowers in a truss form. If you have clivias in your garden you may have noticed that they set seed quite readily. You will have more success if you pick the ripe seed and sow it in seed trays. It is handy to know that orange and red clivias set red seed whereas yellow clivias set yellow seed. They also cross freely amongst themselves so you will get variation, though not all will be uniformly good.

To the vexing question of whether the pronunciation is cliv-vea or clive-ea, we go with the latter but I have heard NZ enthusiasts use the former.

First published in the October issue of NZ Gardener in more or less the same form (slightly less, in this case).  

Orange seed will flower orange or red, yellow seeds will flower yellow

Orange seed will flower orange or red, yellow seeds will flower yellow

Clivias, with a sidetrack onto green flowers.

IMG_5576Clivias 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.

IMG_5596I 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?

IMG_5601IMG_5598To 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.

IMG_5597On 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.

Satyrium odorum - green flower insignificance

Satyrium odorum – green flower insignificance

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.

068Earlier 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.