Chronicle August 2008 | Chronicle October 2008

"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow". Unknown

September 2008

It’s the beginning of September and I’ve been going around the garden looking at my wonderful Agapantus.

The name Agapanthus comes from the Greek word agape (love) and anthos (flower); indeed, in Swedish it’s often referred to as kärlekslilja (love lily), which is perhaps a bit more romantic that the common English name, African Lily. But the Agapanthus doesn’t merely have romantic associations. It also evokes dreams of the sunny Mediterranean and a warmer climate than here in Sweden, although it’s quite possible to have Agapanthus in Swedish gardens as well. In southern Sweden, it’s possible to plant Agapanthus directly into the soil, but that’s not the case in the Stockholm area. In any event, I haven’t tried. I prefer to be on the safe side and plant them in large Italian terracotta pots.

I love my Agapanthus.

There are several small tricks one can use to get them to bloom, and I’m pleased to be able to share them with you. When you buy an Agapanthus plant, even though it might be flowering in the store, it’s very uncertain whether it will bloom in future years.

One of the secrets with Agapantus is that the roots must be tightly squeezed together in the pot in order for it to really flower. The plant takes off and comes into bloom only when it has so many roots that the pot almost splits apart. This can take quite a few years; at least it has in my case. But when the plants finally do get underway, they do so with relish. Oh! What fantastic flowers!

At the moment there’s something of a Mediterranean feel to the garden. The Agapanthus/kärlekslilja/African Lily began blooming in the middle of July and will continue to do so until the middle of September/beginning of October. They make the garden so incredibly exotic, to gaze upon them when they’re standing to attention is almost an erotic experience. Agapanthus can be found in the full gamut of blue, from the very deepest to the most ethereal light blue, and there are also white varieties.

As I’ve just said, I’ve put them in pots, played with a few ideas of my own, and not always done what it says in the books. We have quite a few pots in our garden. It’s often said that they should spend the winters in a conservatory or a greenhouse, etc. but I don’t have them in a greenhouse. During the ten or so years that I’ve had my Agapanthus, in late autumn they have been banished to a life of misery and neglect in our dark, windowless cellar. The cellar is quite warm, and it’s there that the pots are destined to spend the winter months – and be forgotten about – from the middle of November. I don’t water them... and so they slowly wither away. If I venture go down to the cellar in January or February and see the decaying contents of the pots, I come away almost with tears in my eyes. What in heaven’s name have I done now? Have I taken the life of my poor beauties this year as well?

But looks are deceptive. Admittedly, the green withers away; but later, towards the spring, when I begin to give them a little bit of water, the pots are so dry that the water simply runs straight through them. Constant flooding!

But they recover. A few years ago I actually tried to keep a few of the pots in a heated garden shed, where they could enjoy the sunlight (or what passes for sunlight in a Swedish winter). And, to be sure, the leaves didn’t wither at all. So it’s clear to me that one can treat them in different ways and still achieve wonderful results: almost kill them off in a dark cellar or keep them green all year long – at least, that’s what works so for me. And then, I fertilise them with organic-based Chrysan fertiliser throughout the growth period.

The thought sometimes crosses my mind: what would the garden be like if I didn’t have the Apaganthus in bloom right now? I then ponder over what the Agapanthus means to me in our garden and realise that it represents beauty, something slightly erotic, something Mediterranean, something lush and un-Swedish. It is, in fact, a true aristocrat in the garden – foreign but certainly not out of place.

I absolutely adore Agapanthus.

Another thing that happens in August is that the air changes. Every garden lover is familiar with this: the air becomes damp, and in my garden it’s often heavy with the scent of phlox. I love white phlox, but unfortunately they always suffer from mildew. That, however, is something I’m willing to put up with for the sake of the scent.

One can’t have everything in life, but white phlox are high on my list of “must haves” in a garden in August/September. They spread their heavy scent over the garden, at the same time as a number of scented lilies. But I’m still waiting for some lilies that haven’t yet come into bloom. I’ll probably have to wait just over a month for the last lily to flower in the garden, and that’s Speciosen Album, towards October. But, in the meantime, I’ll sit back and savour the late summer joys of my azure Agapantus.

A Gentleman Gardener