Thursday 19 October 2017

Brilliant shades trumpet the arrival of the Peruvian lily

Borderline hardy: The Peruvian Lily or alstroemeria
Borderline hardy: The Peruvian Lily or alstroemeria

Gerry Daly

The flowers of the Peruvian lily or alstroemeria have appeared a bit early this year but they always welcome in July and August. The flower-heads are carried in magnificent clusters at the top of tall stems of about one metre or so. They are distinctively coloured in brilliant shades of orange, red, flame-pink and yellow. The individual flowers are trumpet-shaped, flaring at the mouth with a speckling of black or brown spots.

While the common name claims this flower for Peru, and there are some species that occur in that country, the most commonly grown kinds are natives of Chile and Argentina.

These brilliant colours are most attractive to humming-bird pollinators and are typical of much of South America's flora that has evolved for pollination by birds rather than by insects.

The most commonly grown orange-coloured alstroemeria aurea is a fairly rampant grower, spreading outwards by creeping roots. It needs to be given a good amount of space to make a large clump and can be bounded by shrubs or strong perennials to keep it under control. It is too strong for most perennials but, where there is some space available, it can be spectacular.

Many kinds have been produced such as Ligtu hybrids and Princess hybrids. Ligtu hybrids are generally of red and orange colours, some with a touch of green. Princess hybrids are mostly light in colour, tall and very showy. There are shorter-stemmed kinds that flower almost all summer. These are good in a pot or mixed container, or the front of a bed, but they lack the elegance of the taller kinds in a mixed border.

Usually bought as plants, alstroemeria can be grown from seeds in mixed colours, and considerable variation of colour may result. Growing from seed is an easy way to start off a batch of plants. The roots of the seedlings can be brittle and easily damaged, and it is best to simply plant out the whole potful of young plants and see which colours emerge. It is possible to take divisions of existing plants at the first signs of growth in spring, but this must be done carefully, taking whole spadefuls of the roots.

Choose a good sunny spot in a prominent position because they are so showy. The ground should be fertile with plenty of organic matter and not inclined to dry out but well-drained too and certainly not prone to winter water-logging, which would kill the roots.

The Peruvian lily is borderline hardy and can suffer damage in cold gardens and may need to be covered with loose material in winter. They thrive in the extra warmth of a greenhouse, making beautiful cut-flowers, but grow them in pots as they will want to take over.

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