There was a packed audience in Ticknall Village Hall on March 10th when Steve Hickman came to talk about The World of Agapanthus. Regarded by many as the most beautiful of flowers, all were keen to find out the best way to care for them. Steve holds the national collection of agapanthus at his home at Hoyland Plant Centre, South Yorkshire. His interest has grown over the last twenty five years and he is now a leading expert on them with the status of RHS Master Grower. Not content with that he also specialises in associated plants such as nerines and clivia and tulbaghia. His excellent website www.somethingforthegarden.com is packed with useful information as well as tempting plants. With this background it was not surprising that Steve’s talk turned out to be a thoroughly clear and concise guide to the care of agapanthus with nerines, amarines and clivia thrown in for good measure.
Agapanthus are long living perennials falling into three groups. They can be identified as evergreen or semi-evergreen; herbaceous which die back on autumn; and variegated evergreen and herbaceous. Evergreen varieties are best grown in pots with winter protection. Even hardy herbaceous types benefit from a winter mulch and should not be planted out when still small. All types must always be planted in free draining compost with two parts compost to one part grit, sand or perlite (very useful to make a pot lighter to manage). The common advice that restricting roots produces better flowering was exposed as a myth. Matching root size to suitable size of pot certainly is necessary but when plants outgrow their space it is important to split or repot. Good flowering is more dependent on a regular feeding regime. They need a fertiliser with a high potash content. An ideal formulation would be a N.P.K of 12 12 32 . Tomato food was not the best choice in his opinion. Feed every one to two weeks and keep up a regular watering regime from mid March to late September. Potted plants can be left relatively dry throughout winter. Splitting of plants should be done in March or April. First tease out the fleshy roots and then with a sharp knife, spade or bowsaw slice inwards towards the crown from opposing sides. Leave a day for the rhizomes to skin over before repotting or replanting in the border.
Nerines and amarines (a cross between nerines and amaryllis belladonna) are also his specialty. They are bulbs which flower in late summer when their leaves have died down. They must be grown in full sun in well drained soil with the nose of the bulb exposed. The flower bud takes two years to reach flowering.
Steve now has a fascination with clivia. They are indestructible indoor pot plants which reward with striking flowers when given the right care. Most commonly found with orange flowers but also yellow, Steve is breeding a range of shades from the seeds they produce. They must have no sun shining directly on them and must have a cold spell outside to set their flower. With a good feed in Spring the pot can be placed outside in shade from May onwards and brought in before frosts. They will then flower any time between January and June. If pollinated with a soft brush when in flower they produce beautiful green and orange seed pods.
Steve Hickman had indeed provided a confident masterclass. It was no surprise that the tempting choice of his plants for sale at the end of the evening did a roaring trade.