Peter Dowdall looks at Alstromerias and how you can use it to add colour to your beds and borders.
WHEN it comes to the gift that keeps on giving, Alstroemerias are up there with the best of them.
Hardy perennials, they will thrive on neglect, forming an established clump in a relatively short period.
Indeed, be careful of some species, in particular Alstroemeria aurea (syn. Alstroemeria aurantiaca) as it will make itself far too comfortable in the garden taking over the place with gay abandon, delighting in the nutrient rich, well fed beds and borders that you have provided. Ideally, they like a soil which is slightly acidic, but, in truth, unless you are growing them on pure lime with heavy clay they will tend to do well in most soils.
The genus was named by Carl Linnaeus after the Swedish botanist, Baron Klas von Alstromer who developed a Botanic Garden near Gothenburg and who introduced the plant into Europe with seeds he brought back from South America in 1753.
Beautiful, deceptively delicate looking blooms are produced on top of springy green stems.
There are many different varieties which can be broken into two groups — the tall-stemmed varieties and the dwarf forms.
The taller forms will often not stand up unstaked outside.
If you want you could tie each individual stem to a bamboo cane to keep them up but far easier to use, and more natural looking, are the metal plant supports which are available as arcs or interlocking link stakes.
Lovely and all as Alstroemeria are in the garden, they also make stunning cut flowers which will last for weeks in a vase of water indoors, and they are a very popular flower with florists because of this longevity in arrangements.
I say cut flowers, but don’t actually cut them, rather pull the stem out from the ground.
This will lead to the plant producing a replacement flowering stem much more quickly.
The dwarf forms will also last a long time but are less useful as the stems are so short.
A variety which I only discovered last year that really appeals to me is one called ‘Indian Summer’.
One of the taller forms, it will produce stems about 80cm in height and is the first variety, to the best of my knowledge, to have dark foliage.
The foliage, is a lovely dark bronzy colour which provides the perfect foil to the orange flowers which are produced in abundance at this time of the year and will stay going until the frosts put the plant to sleep once more for the winter.
Like all Alstros the flower isn’t just one shade of orange. The main outer petals are orange with a deeper, nearly red central throat.
The inner petals meanwhile are nearly yellow with intricate dark brown markings.
A stunning statement plant for vibrant colour at this time of the year when many of the other perennials are past their best.
I have only been growing it since last year and it has clumped up substantially in that time, I will certainly keep an eye on it to ensure it stays within its allotted space and doesn’t start to bully its neighbours.
The term Peruvian Lily or Lily of the Incas are common names applied to all Alstromerias while the dwarf varieties are often referred to as Princess Lilies.
I have several of the dwarf forms growing and my favourite of all, ‘Little Miss Sophie’ a very pale, baby pink and white form, is growing in tall pots which is the best way to grow them as due to their low height the flowers will be lost from view if growing in the ground.
Another relatively new introduction which is demanding attention is one called Alstromeria ‘Rock n Roll’.
Not for the faint hearted, as this is one of the true showmen of the garden.
Masses of bright white leaves with a green margin are produced on stems up to 80cm in height.
The flowers on top are so dark orange to be nearly red and the resulting contrast or clash with the bright foliage is nothing if not dramatic.
A true candidate for the brightest plant in the garden.
Over the years growing these late summer stalwarts, I have found that they can travel.
In other words the clump can move, dying out where it was originally planted with the vigour moving into new stems as they spread onwards.
A good mulch over winter with farm yard manure, or an application of Fast Grow seaweed fertiliser in early summer will help to counteract that, and whilst lifting some of the outer stems with their root systems will result in new plants for use elsewhere, I have found that they don’t respond particularly well to the entire clump being lifted and divided.
When sourcing Alstromerias do go for pot grown specimens from the garden centre, plant fair or friendly gardener, and I would avoid those sold in bags on the bulb stands.
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