Agapanthus: Lily of the Nile

Gardeners, along with most people, often long for things we can’t have. In the garden world that usually means a plant that is out of our zone. Agapanthus is one such plant. A tropical with a striking architectural look, its strap-like leaves create a vertical texture while showy circular flowerheads waft on top of straight stems.  See the video above for colours and bee action.

In warmer zones, like the Pacific North West, California, or south Africa where it originates, Agapanthus are everywhere, growing in garden beds. They plant banks of them. Some gardening friends in California even find them boring and commonplace. (In the plant world, familiarity often brings contempt.)  I can’t imagine feeling that way about Agapanthus, as not only are they beautiful and drought resistant, but they attract hummingbirds and bees.

We can enjoy Agapanthus in our cold Ontario climate, as long as we grow them in pots, and bring those pots indoors for the winter.

I have always been an Agapanthus lover, but never had success with them. My one potted specimen grew leaves for many years but never bloomed. I followed the instructions I had been given: keep in a cool dark place over winter, without watering. Keep root-bound (crowded) in its pot. I faithfully brought it outside every summer. Never a bloom. I eventually tossed it on the compost heap, but I realize now I may not have been giving it the proper treatment.

Turns out there are two kinds of agapanthus: deciduous and evergreen. Deciduous ones die back over the winter and need a period of cool and dark. Evergreen ones will continue to grow leaves and can be treated as a houseplant over the winter.

A gardening friend of mine, Yvonne Cunnington, of Country Gardener, re-ignited my passion for Agapanthus when I saw her massive collection of them growing—and blooming like crazy—in huge clay pots on a sunny stone patio outside her house. It was possible to get them to bloom!

I tried again and bought a small plant in flower last summer. (In times past you had to buy the roots from a specialist and pot them up yourself) It flowered for quite a few weeks, and I left it outside all through November till the first frost, when I brought it inside.

My very first flower bud on an Agapanthus, in January!

This time I left it in a sunny, west facing window indoors and forgot about it. I think it must be an evergreen variety because, to my delight, it actually sent out a flower stalk in January. This leads me to think that possibly my other plant was also evergreen and it resented the cool dark treatment I was giving it. Live and learn. A few hints I have gleaned about Agapanthus:

1. Plants may be deciduous or evergreen.
2. Put potted specimens outside in summer in the sunniest, hottest place you have. Water well, but they can take drought as well.
3. Bring indoors and keep in a sunny place and keep watering if it is an evergreen variety.
4. Being pot bound will help with flowering. Also fertilize spring to fall with an organic fertilizer.

Next summer, don’t be afraid to buy one of these garden beauties.

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