PoTM: Gone Fishing – Dierama

There are some plants that we grow in our gardens that are useful, easy, and hard to dislike: oriental poppies, Siberian irises, hardy geraniums. There are others that are fussy but beautifully rewarding: blue poppies, Trilliums, Hepaticas. And there are those that are quite simply irresistible: Angels’ Fishing Rods (Dierama) certainly fall into that ‘must have’ category.

And so they are bought on sight, taken home, and walked around the garden looking for a place to stay. Gardening books and friends are consulted and they all concur: ‘Angels’ Fishing Rods’ have to be next to the pond. In they go. They flower. Winter comes and it rains. And next year the clump has reduced in size and refuses to flower. It is a frustrating and disappointing tale.

How gracefully the name describes the flowers: Angels’ Fishing Rods, but how misleading that name can be. Dieramas, like so many South African plants, experience in the wild both summer rains, and winter drought. The former doesn’t usually pose a problem in England’s damp and pleasant land, but the latter can prove more difficult to imitate. The solution is to grow dieramas in rich soil that drains well: uphill, above a pond; along a gravel path; or, most successfully of all, between the cracks of a sunny paved terrace. Here their roots will enjoy the condensation beneath the paving flags in summer, and any excess water will run off during the winter. Once established they will set their own seed and the bare flagstones will soon be edged with new dieramas: a waving pink meadow.

Dierama pulcherrimum is the species most commonly grown. It makes an evergreen grassy clump from which emerge tall wiry stems alight with silvery-pink bells that dance in the slightest breeze. Selections have been made whose flowers are all shades from white (D.pulcherrimum ‘Guinevere’), through pink to darkest wine red (D.pulcherrimum ‘Merlin’ and D.pulcherrimum ‘Blackbird’).

But South Africa is home to many other species of dierama. Among them, D.medium is usually the first to flower in May and June on 60cm stems, the bells a distinct 1930s mauve. Followed by D.igneum and D.dracomontanum, both very alike with salmon red flowers about 50-65cm tall, in June. And finally D.pulcherrimum holds sway at about 1-1.5m tall in July and August.

The topmost flowers quickly set seed before the lower ones have opened. The seedpods, like lead shot, weigh down the stems almost to the ground. Harvest the seed, keep it somewhere cool, and sow it in spring. Pot up the seedlings in little clumps as soon as they are big enough to handle and grow them on in a cold frame.

Keep them as dry as you dare in winter. Pot them carefully, into deep pots, for the following three springs. Dieramas produce long, brittle tap roots and for this reason it is important to avoid damaging them during the potting process. They should be ready to plant out and flower in their fourth year.

Once they are happily diving south for Australia out in the garden, they don’t like to be disturbed. But to propagate named forms, the clumps do have to be lifted. This is best carried out in spring. Insert a garden fork deeply around the clump, and gently coax it out of the ground. Wash off the surplus soil with a hose so that the roots are visible and then carefully prise off little clumps of corms with their tapering fleshy roots.

Only use the fork if brute strength departs, and then only to loosen and bisect the main clump. Discard any damaged corms or broken tap roots to prevent them rotting underground and infecting their neighbours. Then replant the divided clumps in soil improved with garden compost, and water them in well. They may well sulk for a season while they get over their shock, but they will recover.

And, with luck the following summer you will have angels fishing in your garden.

You will be the envy of all: an expert dierama grower.

Sally Gregson, https://millcottageplants.co.uk

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