The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Sum­mer’s se­cret stars

Al­stroe­me­rias are fab­u­lously colour­ful and long-last­ing – so how come no one knows?

- MAR­TYN COX In the Gar­den Gardening · Hobbies · Biology · Vita Sackville-West · Iceland · Austria · Connecticut · South America · United States of America · Lincolnshire · United Kingdom · Sirius/XM Satellite Radio · Botany · Sissinghurst

LEG­ENDARY gar­dener Vita Sackville-West once wrote that her gar­den gave her most plea­sure from spring un­til the mid­dle of June, af­ter which it started to look a lit­tle tired. ‘It is then that the al­stroe­me­ria come into their own,’ she en­thused, de­scrib­ing th­ese peren­ni­als af­fec­tion­ately as ‘lumps of colour’.

Sackville-West ad­mired them for their colour, beauty and time of flow­er­ing, and grew sev­eral va­ri­eties in the bor­ders of Siss­inghurst Cas­tle. Among her favourites was Al­stroe­me­ria ligtu hy­brids – she pro­claimed that sum­mer was of­fi­cially over when its flow­ers started to fade.

De­spite a few no­table fans, al­stroe­me­rias have been over­looked as gar­den plants. They suf­fer from a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing old-fash­ioned and a bit lily-liv­ered, turn­ing their toes up at the mere men­tion of frost. Some peo­ple don’t bother grow­ing them as they think the flo­ral show lasts a mat­ter of weeks.

It’s fair to say that some older va­ri­eties de­serve the flak, but mod­ern al­stroe­me­rias are dead easy to grow and will of­ten pro­vide a dis­play for six months, from June un­til Novem­ber. Many are hardy down to -10C.

As far as I’m con­cerned, they are the epit­ome of un­der­stated gar­den glam­our with del­i­cate, six-petalled, trum­pet-shaped flow­ers in a wide range of colours. You’ll find white, yel­low, orange, pink, red and pur­ple va­ri­eties, with many splashed with a con­trast­ing shade or boast­ing in­ner petals that are flecked, striped or freck­led.

The open shape of the blooms pro­vides easy ac­cess to bees for­ag­ing for pollen and nec­tar. Sim­i­lar peren­ni­als that are a mag­net to wildlife tend to have per­fumed flow­ers, but the only draw­back with th­ese beau­ties is that they have no dis­cernible scent.

Well, apart from one ex­cep­tion, that is. Bred at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut in the late 1990s, ‘Sweet Laura’ is the world’s first fra­grant al­stroe­me­ria. This unique va­ri­ety boasts golden yel­low flow­ers adorned with orange specks that are held on 2½ft-tall stalks from early sum­mer un­til Septem­ber. Com­monly known as Lily of the In­cas, Peru­vian lily or par­rot lily, al­stroe­me­rias are na­tive to South Amer­ica.

Known for their tall, 4-5ft stems, ligtu hy­brids are cot­tage gar­den favourites and come in a wide range of shades, in­clud­ing pink, yel­low, orange and rose. Plant breed­ing re­ally took off in the late 1960s, when John Goe­mans at Parigo Hor­ti­cul­ture in Lin­colnshire launched pink ‘Bal­le­rina’, the first of about 50 new va­ri­eties for the gar­den and cut-flower in­dus­try that have been de­vel­oped by the nurs­ery over the years.

There are now about 250 dif­fer­ent al­stroe­me­ria avail­able in Bri­tain. One of my favourites is ‘In­dian Sum­mer’, due to its fiery or­an­gered flow­ers that stand out bril­liantly against a foil of bronze-coloured fo­liage. Also su­perb are ‘But­ter­fly Hy­brids’, a mix of pink and pur­ple shades bred to cre­ate plants just 2ft tall.

THE so-called planet se­ries con­sists of va­ri­eties with ex­otic-look­ing blooms on stems rang­ing in height from 2ft to 3ft. ‘Sir­ius’ has soft pink flow­ers with a golden throat and ‘Mars’ is scar­let with a yel­low streak. ‘Saturne’ are apri­cot-orange with yel­low. Lit­tle Miss al­stroe­me­rias are com­pact plants just 8in tall, mak­ing them ideal for small gar­dens or pots. If you want some­thing that re­ally stands out, try ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’ with its out­ra­geous orange scar­let flow­ers dis­played against strik­ing green and cream leaves. Al­stroe­me­ria tu­bers are avail­able for plant­ing in early spring, but I pre­fer to start with young plants, ei­ther plugs or spec­i­mens in larger pots. Plant in a sunny or slightly shaded po­si­tion, mak­ing sure they are shel­tered from strong winds – al­stroe­me­rias do best in moist, well-drained soil but can cope with drier ground if wa­tered well for a cou­ple of sea­sons un­til es­tab­lished.

Those that grow over 3ft will need stak­ing. Keep al­stroe­me­rias bloom­ing by re­mov­ing any spent flower stems.

 ??  ?? IM­PACT: Ligtu hy­brids add colour to a bor­der. Below left: The dis­tinc­tive blooms of Saturne and, right, Rock ’n’ Roll Want more tips and ad­vice from Mar­tyn? Visit MyMail Gar­den for new ar­ti­cles added every week.
IM­PACT: Ligtu hy­brids add colour to a bor­der. Below left: The dis­tinc­tive blooms of Saturne and, right, Rock ’n’ Roll Want more tips and ad­vice from Mar­tyn? Visit MyMail Gar­den for new ar­ti­cles added every week.
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