Thursday 23 November 2017

Peruvian lily puts on brilliant flower show

One of the most showy flowers in gardens at this, or any other, time of year is the remarkable Peruvian lily, or alstroemeria. There is less of it about this year, because plants were killed or severely damaged by the frost of last winter. But, in others, it is unscathed and flowering away.

Peruvian lily is very lily-like with large clustered heads of narrow trumpet-like flowers, although it is not strictly a member of the lily family but has its own family. Nor it is very Peruvian, as the various species arise from many parts of South America -- Chile, Argentina and Brazil as well as Peru. Like many South American plants, the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.

The most commonly seen alstroemerias are the Ligtu hybrids, named after one of the parents. These have a mixed range of colours -- yellow, orange, peach, apricot, red, purple, maroon and pink, often with dark spotting on the petals. They are very pretty in flower and last for many weeks as new buds open.

The orange alstromeria is more old-fashioned but still grown in many gardens. It has a tendency to flop about, the stems not being strong enough to keep it upright, especially in a windy spot. Sometimes it does not flower so well, but when it makes a good display, it can be spectacular. Old plants that do not flower well may have virus diseases and should be discarded.

This kind can be quite vigorous and spread to make a big clump, which can be a nuisance. The plant spreads by means of tuberous rhizomes that come up between other plants. A close watch needs to be kept and the unwanted parts dug out.

Alstroemeria dies back below soil in winter. When the new shoots emerge in spring, they have a lovely soft grey-green colour. The orange alstroemeria is the toughest and others are more likely to have suffered frost damage. In colder areas, alstroemeria can be grown in a greenhouse or polythene tunnel, where the extra warmth gives good flowering, taller stems and even more perfect flowers.

Recent breeding has selected shorter forms to reduce flopping and the shortest of these varieties are just 25cm tall. These look a little ridiculous in a flower border but can be very pretty in pots, flowering for a long period. Watch for slugs in spring.

All kinds like plenty of humus in the soil, which should be well-drained. The tubers die out if the soil is too heavy and wet in winter. They grow well and flower best in full sunshine, but can take some shade. Give some shelter to avoid having the stems topple over, or provide support. Mulch in winter to avoid frost damage.

Sunday Independent

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