FLOWERING away merrily in recent months, lily turf is a strange little flower. It has grassy evergreen foliage that explains the turf part of the name and it surprisingly produces upright spikes of purple plants that are vaguely lily-like.
Although grass-like in appearance, it is a member of the greater lily family -- more specifically the lily-of-the-valley section. This helps to place the flower in context. Lily-of-the-valley has little nodding, bell-shaped flowers and lily turf has round, bead-like flowers, encrusted along the flower stems.
The flowers can appear from late summer and well into November. Different plants flower at different times, depending to some extent on their location. Plants in sunny places flower earlier, and more generously, while those in light shade flower later. The flower spikes are about 30cm tall.
Though not well known, lily turf is a very useful garden flower. Being evergreen, it offers a touch of greenery in flower borders that might be left looking a little bare. It is tolerant of a fair amount of shade and can be used to fill in around and in front of shrubs.
It is normally seen as a tuft of grassy leaves near the front of a mixed border, where it can add a very useful touch of colour in autumn, and it is often used as an edging plant, forming a run of grassy leaves that arch lightly outwards.
There are two species likely to be seen, both originally from China and Japan, where they grow in light woodland. Liriope spicata has a tuft of leaves that are semi-evergreen and produces spikes of light purple flowers. This species produces spreading rhizomes and is good for filling ground.
The other species, Liriope muscari, is the prettier of the two, with larger, more deeply coloured purple flower spikes. It flowers best in sunshine and flowers a bit later than the other species, lasting into November. It has tuberous roots and does not spread as much, slowly making a dense clump.
There are some named forms, such as 'Big Blue', which is a selected form with good spikes of purple-blue flowers. 'Monroe White' is a white-flowered kind but it is a bit washy and not of great interest. There are some forms with variegated, striped foliage and these tend to look sickly.
Plant liriope in good open soil, well drained, with plenty of organic material dug in, in a sheltered spot where the foliage will not get shredded. While the established plants are relatively tolerant of dry soil, new plants find it difficult to get going. Watch for slug damage to the new foliage as it emerges in spring and early summer.