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Plant of the Week

Gardening

June 03, 1989|JUDITH SIMS

Agapanthus africanus Lily of the Nile

Evergreen perennial with straplike leaves and blue or white flowers.

Agapanthus plants are so commonly used in Southern California that they sometimes seem to disappear while we notice a more unusual plant. Not that we need to worry about its future; agapanthus will probably remain ever popular, because it combines ease of care with good looks--big globe-shaped clusters of flowers on leafless stalks that rise well above the leaves--and an affable adaptability to a wide range of growing conditions.

Landscape designers love to place agapanthus under jacaranda trees; the two plants frequently bloom at the same time (June and July), and their flowers are nearly the same color. The lacy jacaranda leaves are nicely complemented by the sturdier, but no less graceful, arching agapanthus leaves.

Agapanthus' second most frequent appearance is in borders. Any border--parking lot, perennial flower, formal front yard, either in combination with other greenery or with masses of its own kind.

Agapanthus has a tuberous root, or rhizome, but it is not offered for sale as a bare bulb, because it never goes dormant; most of the plants offered in containers are grown from seed or propagated by root division.

In addition to the standard 18-inch blue- and white-flowered varieties, there are dwarfs ("Peter Pan," also in blue or white, is best known) that grow only 12 inches tall. Agapanthus orientalis, often confused with africanus, has the tallest and biggest flowers, with blooms sometimes reaching 4 feet. It is definitely showier than its africanus cousin, but because of its size it isn't as versatile; 4-foot flowers tend to loom.

An established agapanthus can endure some drought, but it prefers lots of water during its blooming season. It will do well under trees because it can take as little as three hours of sun a day--or full sun near the coast. And it flourishes in containers, probably because it likes its roots a little crowded. Feed agapanthus only during the growing season, and keep it slightly dry and hungry in the winter.

If you can't locate agapanthus at a Southern California nursery, you're not trying.

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