'For me, and those I love, May a windless bower be built, Far from passion, pain, and guilt, In a dell 'mid lawny hills.'
P. B. Shelley.
PROBABLY the happiest way to grow half-hardy plants of all kinds, the bulbous among them, is in a dell garden, large or small. I know that my own gardening was easiest, and quite triumphant, when I had a rockeried pit, the result of obtaining gravel for new paths, on a Hertfordshire hill-top. Sun-heat was concentrated on one inner portion of that pit; shadow and shelter were combined upon the other. All the spring blossoms were earliest, all the autumn ones latest; many a plant flowered long into winter, the real winter ones flourished grandly even when sharp frosts had spoilt their brethren on the level. Plants that needed rather arid soil rejoiced in the sides near the summit; those that loved moisture revelled in the bottom of the banks, where the effect of combined geniality of temperature and drained-down rainfalls was shown by the enormous size of such ordinary favourites as Pansies, Polyanthuses, Double Daisies, Woodland Primroses, as well as by Daffodils, Tulips, Bluebells and Anemone Fulgens, the Scarlet Star of February.
Against bold crags half-way up the sunny slopes rose blue and white Agapanthuses from late June to October. The plants were not lifted, but lined out, protected during the cold months by heaps of cinder-ashes above their roots - cinder-ashes hidden by the always sightly and beneficial Hop Manure - above which the evergreen leaves continued to wave majestically.
Very few are the gardens in which the Agapanthus, or African Blue Lily, can be found permanently dwelling; yet many are the gardens it would be quite willing to inhabit. It ranks as an herbaceous plant, but is included in Bulb Lists. Mrs. Loudon wrote of it thus:
Agapanthus - Hemerocallidace - The Blue African Lily, A. Umbellatus, is a noble plant, with a bulbous root, somewhat resembling that of a leek; and it retains its leaves all the winter. There is a variety with striped leaves. A. albidus has white flowers, but it does not differ from the common kind in any other respect. A. maximus has a very tall stem, and narrow leaves, and the flowers, which are of an extremely dark blue, with a white stripe, form rather a small head in proportion to the great length of the stem. Both these last-named plants are, however, probably only varieties of A. umbellatus.'
There is also a double blue variety.
Whether the Agapanthus is cultivated in the ground, or in pots or tubs, it must be liberally watered while growing rapidly, and throughout the blossom period; it is a glorious spectacle by rivers and lakes, but either must be pot-sunk in damp places, or be established in raised rockeries or banks that will become almost dry in winter months if covered by a sufficient cinder mulch, etc.
Another ancient author says of it:
'A striking plant, which is too much confined to the greenhouse, inasmuch as the lovely blue of its handsome head of flowers only attains its fulness in the open air. The Agapanthus is only half-hardy in England; and though it may be permitted to remain throughout the winter in the open ground, under a covering of litter or leaves, it must always be at a risk. It is safer to keep the bulbs in pots (which must be large) in good, light, rich soil. At the beginning of June these pots may be sunk in a bed, or along a border, being liberally supplied with water in hot dry weather. Where there is a good stock of bulbs in hand, half may be ventured in the garden, and half retained in pots, to be removed into a cold frame for the winter. Flowering commences in July, and continues during the summer if the plants are indulged with plenty of water, of which they are greedy at that time. Propagate by division of the bulb, planting the offset immediately. Seedlings (to be sown on peat-mould) will not come into their flowering state before the fourth year at soonest.'
Plant the Agapanthus in March, or pot it three bulbs in a giant pot, or tub, using a compost of two parts fresh turf loam, one part each of old cow-manure, leaf-mould, and coarse sand, preferably from a river-bed. Sprinkle the compost with a little soot, and place nuggets of charcoal on the drainage crocks. Water moderately, then freely, until flowers are over, then very little, and scarcely ever during winter. As the Agapanthus is almost robust it becomes sickly in too much heat, a winter temperature of 400 being sufficient. If this is apt to rise, the plants would do better put into cold frames that can be banked up outside with cinders and have their lights covered with mats when necessary. The greenhouse temperature for flowering them may be 550. To avoid exposing them to undue heat, Agapanthuses are often stood just outside conservatory doors. The rich blue colour is never seen except on hardily grown specimens.
Camassias are also rather tall, handsome, blue or ivory-white, blooming plants, half-hardy in most localities, quite hardy in some. They are the Qua-mashes of North America, whose roots serve some tribes as food; hence the second part of their title - Cam-assia esculenta. Clever florists have been at work upon this floral species, with the result that there is a large-flowering pale blue variety, Blue Star, which shares with the handsome violet Royal Purple the merit of being only 18 inches to 2 feet tall, whereas the type plant, and Hybrids, generally reach a stature double that, and appear over high for their value.