Plant of the month – Agapanthus
Agapanthus (African lily) are summer-flowering perennial plants, grown for their showy flowers, commonly in shades of blue and purple, but also white and pink. They thrive in any well-drained, sunny position in the garden but also look great in pots too. There are two main types of agapanthus – deciduous and evergreen – and the surge of interest in them has led to the breeding and introduction of hundreds of new varieties.
The deciduous agapanthus species come from colder regions and are generally hardier. The evergreen species are from milder parts of South Africa which have higher rainfall. These varieties tend to be less hardy and may not remain evergreen if the winter is very cold. All agapanthus are drought tolerant and like to be planted in well-drained soil and in full sun. They can sometimes be a little bit fussy and it may take two or three years for plants to establish before flowering really takes off.
To keep your agapanthus happy, there are a couple of jobs that should always be ahered to – mulch in autumn or cover the crown of the plant with straw or fleece to protect from the frost, which includes moving your pots to a more sheltered position if your agapanthgus treasures are planted in pots. If clumps become too big, they can be lifted and split every four to five years. In heavy soils, mix in grit when planting to improve drainage and lastly feed well. They are hungry little things!
In my experience, I have found that agapanthus grow much better in pots with their roots constricted however, they should be split and replanted in fresh compost if the roots become too congested, otherwise flowering will suffer. There is much debate about the growing of agapanthus with some advocates expressing their opinion that plants grow just as well in the soil as they do in pots. Personally, I believe it all comes down to soil type, if you have heavy water logged soils in winter then the plants struggle to survive. Also cold winters seem to negatively effect potted specimens as well as plants in the ground. Because of this, both should be planted with adequate drainage and also mulched over the winter to protect the crowns and roots from the frost.
In general agapanthus require a light free draining soil in full sun. They will not flower in shade, so clearly require some ultraviolet light to encourage flowering. In cold wet heavy soil the roots of most species can and often will simply rot off in winter.
With so many varieties readily available it’s difficult to know which agapanthus to choose. One of my favourites has to be Midnight Cascade, with its Indigo tubular flowers and drooping heads topping its elegant stems. This variety looks great in a pot or in a mixed planting scheme in the border. For a great summer planting scheme combo try planting Agapanthus with Achillea millefolium Rose Madder, Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam, Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘Emily McKenzie’, Hemerocallis ‘Janice Brown’, Sedum Brilliant and Penisetum tall tails, Echinacea Purpurea and Helenium Sahins Early Flowerer.