Tuesday 16 January 2018

Gardening: Beautiful 'bush lily' is a decorator's dream

Gerry Daly

AN EXCELLENT house plant, clivia flowers spectacularly each year in spring, a broadly domed cluster of bright orange-yellow trumpet flowers. These are reminiscent of the trumpets of the popular hippeastrum or amaryllis, although they are smaller individually and there are more of them, and clivia is, in fact, a member of the amaryllis family.

It has an alternative name of 'bush lily', which it gets from its presence in the shade of trees and scrubby bushes in its native South Africa, enjoying the cooling effects of the overhead canopy.

It is evergreen, so it grows during a period when deciduous trees have lost their foliage. Its evergreen foliage is poisonous to animals and it is not grazed as a result.

The head of flowers is carried over the arching broad strap-like leaves. These push out from the centre of the crown in matching sprays on each side. As the plant grows older, new crowns are made and the leaves criss-cross over each other.

The plant, when well grown, can produce a flower spike from each crown and a large plant with several flower spikes open is a remarkable sight. The usual colour is orange but there are yellow-flowered variants also, although they are much more rare, but might turn up if the plant is grown from seeds.

Although it is not hardy enough for outdoor use, and can only be grown as a house plant, it is very robust. The lustrous dark-green foliage can survive quite cool indoor conditions over a long period, tolerating low light well, and when not in flower it can be tucked away as a background plant.

The foliage is so pretty that the plant is decorative whether in flower or not. In fact, if the foliage is given too much direct sunshine, it can become faded and yellowish.

It loves to be placed in a greenhouse or polytunnel in summer in a shady spot with filtered light and a warm atmosphere. In these conditions the plant builds up its reserves of energy to make a large head of flowers the following spring.

Although it is fairly widely available, at least for part of the year, it is not at all well-known. Grow it in a mixture of good soil and compost or leaf-mould. It likes plenty of organic material in the compost. Keep it moist and liquid-feed it every three weeks from April to September to keep it growing nicely, and just moist in winter, never wet or standing in a saucer of water.

Irish Independent

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