Sandy’s Garden ... Agapanthus

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

“When I was younger, so much younger than today / I never needed anybody’s help in any way.”

“But now these days are gone and I’m not so self-assured / Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors,” sang the Beatles in Help!, their fifth studio album, released on 6 August 1965.

Well, in August 1965 I too was so much younger than I am today; and, like the ‘I’ in Messrs. Lennon and McCartney’s song, I too have come to realise that, with increasing age, comes increasing dependence on other people and agencies for help in so many aspects of everyday living. This realisation was, for me, a mercifully gradual thing rather than a sudden transformation as a result of an accident, the breakdown of a relationship or a family disruption. But yes, I do need help in many different ways including, from time to time, some assistance in persuading my mind to give up worrying about matters which cannot be improved overnight to allow me to drop off to sleep and so to be better prepared, come the morning, to cope with the very matters which are swirling about in my head.

So it came about that I was lying in bed recently with the radio tuned to BBC Radio 4 some time after midnight, allowing the gentle South African accent of a story-reader to wash worries from my consciousness, when I half-heard the word ‘agapanthus’. And a picture came to mind, a picture of what the members of the editorial team at the magazine Gardeners’ World have described as, “some of the most beautiful and reliable summer plants you can grow.” For the agapanthus, otherwise known as the African lily or the lily of the Nile, is one of South Africa’s best known garden plants which is grown nowadays in most countries in the world.

Agapanthus comes originally from the cliffs of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and rejoices in the Afrikaans name ‘kleinbloulelei.’ Despite having what are described a ‘common’ names, the plant is referred to by its pukka botanical name … Agapanthus … more often than not. (Conventionally in the world of the botanist, the name of a plant is accorded an initial capital and written in italic script … Agapanthus … in a scientific context whereas it lacks both of these features … agapanthus … in common usage.) Springing from a bulb, agapanthus produces strap-like leaves which surround a flowering stem between half-a-metre and a metre tall according to the species – say, about 20 inches to a little over a yard in old money. Most varieties feature blue flowers … often a really vivid light blue … in the height of summer, which is from December to February in the southern hemisphere and between July and September north of the equator. Occasionally, white flowers are found in the wild in the Cape Peninsula; and hybridisation by plant nurseries has produced flowers with varying amounts of white in predominantly blue blooms.

Many species of agapanthus thrive in the United Kingdom, where they are best grown in fertile, well-drained, but moisture-retentive soil in full sun; as might be expected of plants originally from South Africa, they do not thrive in shade. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) advises: “If your soil is prone to winter waterlogging, or you live in a cold area and want to grow tender varieties, try growing agapanthus in large containers. Place in a light, dry, frost-free place in late autumn - a cold frame or greenhouse is ideal.” As is quite common with exotic plants … plants introduced into parts of the world where they are not native … agapanthus has become an invasive species in some countries where conditions are very much to its liking and is regarded as a troublesome weed. However, this is not the case in Scotland, where gardeners can enjoy these attractive flowers without any such concern.