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Lily of the Nile responds after 12 years

Donald McClure
The County Gardener

It is known as the Lily of the Nile. It has even been called the plant of love. But it is neither a lily nor a native of the Nile region and for the past 12 years has not responded to our most earnest entreaties to flower.

In reality it is Agapanthus Africanus, a tropical plant with a delicate, regal beauty which can inspire people to romanticize that they could be staring into the alluring blue/violet eyes of…..well Cleopatra.

My introduction to its mystique happened over a decade ago when the superb plantswoman Yvonne Athawes brought three potted scions from her Blue Nile collection to hand out to gardening aficionados at a gathering of weavers and spinners at Judy’s studio.  I was lucky enough to be one of the recipients.

This started a 12- year effort to coax the little lady to flower.

Now Yvonne ventured at the time that growers  might have to show patience in getting it to bloom — but with a little trial and error it could be accomplished . “Keep persisting and you will have favourable results,”  she advised.

So began a long dance around this potted plant with its strap-like foliage – it determined not to bloom; me steadfast that it would bloom.

So over the years I gave it more light — nothing happened.  We gave it less light — and nothing happened.  We gave it fertilizer — no sign of buds.  We cut off its fertilizer and it still sat here with its arms folded refusing to flower.

Each spring we put it outside. In the fall we dutifully brought it in for the winter. It still would not – or could not respond. This year I had practically forgotten it.  One day I noticed its bedraggled condition sitting near a bench in the Studio. I had forgotten to water it for over a week.  It was to say the least, a despondent plant. A number of its leaves had turned to crisply yellow – the sign of a major sulk.

Dutifully I picked it up and staggered to take it outside. Halfway to the door something caressed my arm.  It was a long stalk with a bud on  the end. The  Lily of the Nile was expecting a flower!

After all the months of trying to cater to its every whim this stubborn plant finally gave in.   I settled it down in a sunny spot and started giving it the VIP treatment.

If you want to have success with Lilies of the Nile, the experts caution to avoid disturbing the root. We also learned that if you take them outside for summer, ensure you get them tucked back in the house before frost.

The secret of success is simple.  Keep trying and when  all else fails – ignore them.  So in some kind of complex plant reasoning this Lily of the Nile decided to attract attention by finally putting up a grand 8-inch, lapis lazuli flower with 33 panicles!   It was a spectacular show.

Many people find them easy to grow.  Others, fumblers like myself, have a few problems.  Don’t give up trying.  If one adjustment doesn’t work try something else.  And if all else fails pretend you are ignoring them.  It might finally get their attention.

Oh yes, avoid too much handling of these beauties. They can create an allergic reaction to those so disposed.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere Else

About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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