Tuesday 6 December 2016

Fishing with the angels

Gerry Daly

Published 10/07/2016 | 02:30

Elegant: Pretty dierama Photo: Gerry Daly
Elegant: Pretty dierama Photo: Gerry Daly

Few plants can match the elegance of the wandflower for its very beautiful arching flower stems and their pendent slender flowers. It is also widely known as 'angel's fishing rod' because the shape of the flower stems is reminiscent of a bending fishing rod, and it is widely known by its correct botanical name of dierama too.

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The bell-shaped flowers occur mainly in shades of pink, dark or light. Every plant grown from the same batch of seeds has a slightly different shade. If a selection of plants of lighter or darker shades is made from seed, eventually the colours will range from dark purple to very pale pink and even white. But the reverse happens in gardens too when backcrosses dilute the colour of the extremes.

The angel's fishing rod name has created an imagined connection with water. It is common to see dierama planted at the edge of a pond to gain advantage of the reflection of the arching stems. But it is not a wet ground plant. There is generally no harm done as most garden ponds are artificially made with a plastic liner and the soil beside the pond drains normally.

Native to the high grassy slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, dierama grows very well here, the relatively cool climate suiting it well - the plant usually produces plentiful quantities of seeds. These are produced in round pods, the size of a large pea. The pods split to release round seeds which germinate freely, producing slender grassy seedlings. These can pop up in good places, but often appear in amid other flowers. Remove the pods when immature to prevent unwanted seeding.

The main kind grown in gardens is the species Dierama pulcherrimum with evergreen grassy foliage and arching flower wands sometimes over two metres tall. Dierama dracomontanum is much smaller, the flower stems shorter and more upright. The flowers dangle too and the individual flowers are more flared at the mouth. If both species are grown in the same garden, hybrids commonly arise and show characteristics intermediate of the two.

Dierama is very easy to grow in any ordinary soil that is not too heavy or becomes wet in winter. It likes free-draining soil in a sunny position, but this must not be too dry or the plant loses leaves and tends to appear scrawny. At first the plant is quite small, just a few long slender arching leaves, taking about three years to flower from seeds. Though not fully hardy, it survives in all but the coldest inland areas.

Sunday Independent

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