Sandy's Garden ... Alstromeria

One of the many cut flowers which grace the floristry displays in supermarkets and florists’ shops during the late spring and early summer is alstroemeria.

By Sandy Simpson
Monday, 15th June 2020, 3:52 pm
Updated Monday, 15th June 2020, 3:52 pm

The reasons for its popularity are easily explained. It comes in a wide variety of bright colours, including … in alphabetical order … apricot, lavender, orange, pink, purple, red, white and yellow; the flowers are showy and … importantly … are long-lived, standing up well in a vase for a fortnight or more; the dark green foliage complements the vivid flower colours; and, not least, it is relatively inexpensive to buy in bunches.

What more can one ask of a plant whose lily-like blooms are cut to decorate one’s home? As an added bonus, it grows happily in gardens in central Scotland; and the gardener can enjoy his or her own home-grown cut flowers indoors with very little effort.

It’s all good news so far: surely there must be some snags? And yes, there are a couple; alstroemeria can be a decidedly invasive inhabitant of a Scottish garden, albeit it is not one which is regarded as a hostile alien invader. I shall mention the other… surprising … one later.

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Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

It grows very happily in my garden, despite being native to Brazil and Chile, for it is pretty hardy and can survive almost everything a typical Scottish winter can throw at it except, possibly, a really prolonged hard frost which penetrates deep into the ground, the like of which we haven’t seen for years – and even then the alert gardener who heeds the dire weather warnings which would precede such an event can protect the roots with a mulch.

I should probably say, at this point, that neither Ailsa nor I have any recollection of where our alstroemeria originally came from and consequently which of the many variants it is: but I suspect, from its colours, that it is Alstroemeria aurea … the golden alstroemeria … a surmise made more probable by the fact that this is the most common variety to be found in UK gardens.

Alstroemeria was first described, in 1763, in volume 6 of the first edition of “Amoenitates Academicae” … Academic Delights … which, to quote Wikipedia, is, ‘the title of a multi-volume zoological and botanical publication (published during 1749–1790) consisting of the dissertations of the students of Carl Linnaeus during 1743–1776. Seven out of ten volumes were published by Linnaeus himself, the last three were edited by Johann Christian von Schreber.’

The 1763 description reads: “Alstroemeria scapo erecto, foliis lineato - lanceolatis obtusis sessilibus, umbella eomjtosita 8 - 9 radial a Jloribus aureis, pedunculis 2 -3 Jloris, involacri foliis lineuri lanceolatis” which is an eighteenth century scholar’s way of saying, roughly, that alstroemeria is a perennial plant growing from a tuber to a height and girth of 1m (3ft 3in) by 1m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.

The leaves are alternately arranged and are twisted on their stalks so that the undersides face up. The species has both male and female organs and is pollinated by insects.

The alstroemerias grown commercially for bouquets and exotic floral arrangements are the result of cross-breeding winter-growing species from Chile with summer-growing species from Brazil to create cultivars which … in the right conditions … continue to grow and flower all year round to the delight of the cut flower trade.

I need hardly add that an outdoor garden in central Scotland does not offer the right conditions! And I have recently discovered an unexpected characteristic of alstroemeria; although it grows like a weed for me nowadays, when I lifted several tubers to give to a friend, I prised the well-established tubers up from their half-metre-or-so underground habitat successfully but couldn’t help breaking some of the fleshy, but thin and brittle, roots.

The plant, I now know, doesn’t like these roots being disturbed, let alone broken; and the tubers are reluctant to replace them.

Well, I did try.