The South African Agapanthus is full bloom now. At one time agapanthus was considered a tender bulb, only suitable for growing in warm coastal gardens. Now it is available in an increasing range of new and hardier varieties. By carefully selecting suitable sites everybody can now enjoy agapanthus.
The plant is a native of South Africa, where it grows in the shade of trees, under cover from the strong sunlight that would cause the plants to dry out and scorch. In Ireland they need a warm sheltered position where they can bathe in sunlight for most of the day.
They dislike waterlogged, heavy soils and also sandy soils that are prone to drying out during the growing season. If the soil is too rich, it will promote soft, lush growth that is prone to winter damage. Ample water during the growing season is also essential to ensure success.
Agapanthus has flower heads known as umbels, which are large and rounded and made up of many tubular flowers that are open wide at the mouth. Their colour ranges from shades of blue through to violet and there are also pure white forms. Unlike other plants, no breeder has yet been able to produce any freak colour forms such as pink or yellow. Different varieties of agapanthus can grow from 20 to 40 inches in height. There are two types of agapanthus flower, some are pendulous, but most are trumpet shaped.
Plant the rhizomes just deep enough to cover them with well-drained soil, enriched with well-rotted garden compost. Water well in dry weather. In frost-prone gardens cover the plant with a layer of mulch in winter or grow the plant in containers, where it likes being pot-bounded. When clumps become overcrowded, divide and replant the fleshy roots in mid- to late spring. Slugs and snails can be a problem when the new shoots appear in spring.
Agapanthus campanulatus is a clump-forming perennial with narrow strap-shaped leaves. ‘Albus’ has white flowers, while ‘Royal Blue’ has intense rich-blue flowers. Agapanthus can look well on their own or grown beside the blue-silver leaves of melianthus major, another South African plant. Alternatively, it can look fantastic growing among the silver foliage of santolina. The white agapanthus can look stunning growing next to the pink flowers of penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’ or ‘Evelyn’.
Climber of the week
Dregea is a genus of three or more species of twinging, woody climbers that grow in the tropical forests from South Africa to China. We grow one variety, Dregea sinenis, which is a twining climber with heart shaped leaves that produces very fragrant creamy white flowers in late summer. The flowers are followed by long slender seed pods. The plant is a native of China and likes a well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Tie the young shoots onto support wires until they start to twine themselves. Prune after flowering to control size and remove dead wood in spring.
Vegetable garden and preserving
This week we harvested our crop of ‘Red Ace’ beetroot. The beetroot was pulled and the green leaves were cut off 2 inches from the top. Wash well in cold water, be careful not to break the small roots or cut the skin, do not peel the skin.
Place the beetroot in a large pot and cook steadily in boiling water for 2-3 hours until tender. Test by applying pressure with your finger. Do not use a knife, fork or skewer to test for tenderness.
Drain the water, allow to cool and remove the skin from the beetroot. Cut the beetroot into slices a quarter of an inch in thickness or cut into large cubes.
Place a pint of vinegar, a cup of finely chopped onions, a bay leaf, some parsley and thyme, an ounce of butter and a half pound of sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently with stirring for about 30 minutes to infuse the mixture. Add the sliced beetroot and heat for a further 30 minutes. Place the cooked beetroot in sterilised jars for storage over the winter.