Lily Of The Nile

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Agapanthus bloom looks like Independence Day.

It is no lily, but it does live on the banks of the Nile River. Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus africanus, endures both long dry summers and winter flooding. While inundated, it clings to the silty soil with a sturdy network of rubbery roots. Densely mounding foliage regenerates as floodwater recedes. If conditions get exceptionally warm and dry, foliage may eventually shrivel after midsummer bloom.

Home gardens are certainly more hospitable than the floodplains of the Nile River. The luxuriant foliage of lily of the Nile is evergreen locally, even if irrigation is minimal. The rubbery leaves get as long as two feet, arching outward from basal rosettes. New foliage obscures deteriorating old foliage. Plants that get too congested to bloom well might benefit from division of individual rosettes.

Lily of the Nile blooms around Independence Day, with round floral trusses that resemble exploding fireworks. Each blue or white bloom stands about two to four feet high, on slim and bare stems. Individual florets are small and tubular. ‘Storm Cloud’ blooms with darker blue or purple. Agapanthus orientalis may exhibit bigger blooms and coarser foliage. ‘Peter Pan’ stays low and compact.

Fourth of July

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Lily of the Nile are floral Fourth of July fireworks.

Fireworks, Fourth of July parades, and the associated crowds are of course canceled for this year.

Lily of the Nile does not mind. It blooms in time for the Fourth of July regardless of what the rest of us are doing, or not doing. That is one of the two reasons why some of us know it as the ‘Fourth of July flower’. The other reason is that the nearly spherical floral trusses resemble exploding skyrocket fireworks. They are mostly blue, with some white. All that is missing is red.

The bloom in this picture is not exactly exemplary. It would have been larger, rounder, and likely more advanced in bloom if it had developed in a sunnier location. There are enough of them that we do not notice that most are somewhat diminutive. In autumn, many of the overgrown plants will be relocated to a sunnier situation where they can bloom as they would prefer too.

Lily of the Nile was the first perennial that I grew a significant quantity of. While in junior high school, a neighbor instructed me to remove a healthy colony of lily of the Nile that had grown obtrusively large in only twenty years. I could not just discard it, so chopped it into more than sixty pups, and planted it all over the neighborhood. Much of it is still there. A bit of it is here.

Back then, it was known as Agapanthus orientalis. In school, I learned it as Agapanthus africanus. I still do not know if they are two different species, or if one is just a variety of the other. I do know that mine are distinctly different from common sorts, with bigger and rounder floral trusses. The others have straighter stems that support their blooms batter, and finer foliage.

Forget-Me-Not

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Blue like this is worth remembering.

Alaska, the biggest state in America, claims one of the most diminutive state flowers; their native alpine forget-me-not, Myosotis alpestris. Common woodland forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, is the more familiar species here. It is not as common as the name implies though. Where naturalized, it stays within riparian or coastal situations, where the soil does not stay too dry for too long.

Forget-me-not is not notably popular in home gardens nowadays either. Of course, that only means that it is not often planted intentionally. Like violets and alyssum, it can proliferate where it gets a bit of water. Those who recognize it as more than a weed often leave it to provide delightful sky blue bloom until it succumbs to the warmth of summer. It is pleased to toss seed for the next year.

Common woodland forget-me-not is an annual, or at most, a biennial. Self sown seed starts to germinate through autumn, and grows into plants that can bloom before the end of winter. Manually sown seed wants to be in the garden early too, even if it grows slowly. New plants are too delicate to be commonly available in nurseries. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and two feet broad.

Blue Is The Loneliest Color

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Colorado has a blue State Flower.

The majority of common pollinators are not impressed with blue. Otherwise, more flowers would be blue. After all, floral color appeals to pollinators. Each type of pollinator prefers specific colors. Plants customize their floral color to their preferred pollinators. If more flowers could attract more pollinators with blue, they would do so. Instead, they rely on colors that have worked well for them.

Green is actually the most common floral color. It is not obviously common because green flowers are generally ignored. They are the sort that rely on wind for pollination, so make little or no effort to draw attention. They are also the sort that produce the most and worst pollen, which gets carried farthest by the wind. Flowers that rely on pollinators produce coarser pollen that clings to things.

Of the many other colors that appeal to pollinators, most are significantly more complex than they appear. For example, what appears to be simple orange may appeal to pollinators that perceive it to be yellow, as well as those that are drawn to red, even if none are interested in orange. Different pollinators perceive different color ranges. Insects do not perceive red; but hummingbirds do.

That certainly could not explain why blue is such an uncommon color for flowers. It surely has more of a following than red, which is more common among flowers. Since most pollinators perceive blue, more flowers should utilize it. They could even add some ultraviolet or infrared to it, if that would make it more appealing. Nonetheless, true blue, without the influence of purple, is quite rare.

Lily-of-the-Nile and blue dawn flower are some of the more substantial species that provide exquisitely blue bloom. A few cultivars of butterfly bush bloom true blue too, but the color is not so clear and bright. Delphinium, bellflower, squill and grape hyacinth are smaller, but worthy perennials for the richest blues. Petunias, lobelia, nigella, cornflower and columbine are blue blooming annuals.

Many iris, sage and lupine provide exquisitely true blue bloom as well.

Blue Marguerite

60907Most blue flowers are blushed with purple to some degree. Except for lily of the Nile, true blue flowers are quite uncommon. Even with their yellow centers, the tiny daisy flowers of blue marguerite, Felicia amelloides, seem to be too blue to be real. They are almost expected to fade to lavender. Bloom may not be as full as it was a month ago, but continues as long as the weather is warm.

Mature plants are usually less than a foot and a half tall, and not much wider, with a symmetrically rounded form. The branches are rather fragile, and can be broken by something as trivial as a clumsy cat. They really are not strong enough for bouncy dogs or children. Yet, their tiny oval leaves are just raspy enough to deter deer. Unfortunately, blue marguerite plants live only a few years.

Nierembergia

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When first created by Chrysler, the Imperial was considered to be so close to perfection that fancy colors were unnecessary. It was originally only available in black or white, and later red, like the Chrysler Imperial rose that was named for it. It took a while for other colors to become available. Perhaps perfection is the same reason why nierembergia is only blue or white, or maybe purple.

Nierembergia is most popularly grown as a warm season annual for color from the middle of summer to autumn. It can get half a foot high and a foot wide. As a perennial, it has the potential to get twice as high and wide after its first year, but it lasts only a few years, and looks rather shabby through cool winter weather. The small flowers are evenly dispersed over the finely textured foliage, lacking only on the shaded sides of the densely rounded plants.

Because it gets a bit deeper than most other annuals, nierembergia is a nice transitional plant between lower annuals that might cascade over the edge of a planter in front, and higher or more upright perennials or shrubbery that might obscure a foundation behind. It can work alone too, but does not cascade from planters, big pots or hanging baskets.

 

‘Big Blue’ Sea Holly

70719This one is no fun to handle. It is just as prickly as it looks. Yet, it is the spiny foliage and blooms that make ‘Big Blue’ sea holly, Eryngium X zabelii ‘Big Blue’, so appealing. The knobby blue thistle flowers are centered on prominently flaring grayish blue bracts that look like metallic snowflakes. The intricately lobed grayish foliage contrasts splendidly with just about any darker green foliage.

Bloom begins with summer and continues almost to autumn. The first flowers are solitary on strong stems. As they fade, sideshoots from these original stems continue to bloom with smaller but more abundant flowers. They are excellent cut flowers, fresh or dried. However, cutting the first solitary flowers with long stems removes some of the sideshoots that would otherwise bloom later.

Mature plants can get three feet tall and half as wide. Shade, even part shade, causes irregular growth that can be quite weedy. Although perennial, ‘Big Blue’ sea holly might live only a few years.

Contrary to the appearance of the bristly thistle like foliage and flowers, sea holly is in the Umbelliferae family, which means that it is more closely related to celery and carrot than it is to artichoke!

Blue Plumbago

70712The delightfully clear sky blue flowers of blue plumbago, Plumbago auriculata, seem like they belong with colorful annuals or in a tailored border of colorfully blooming perennials. However, the rampant canes of mature plants are really best in the background where they have room to grow wild. The canes do not climb like vines, but can flop over other shrubbery as high as fifteen feet.

Rounded trusses of small blue flowers begin to bloom sporadically by the end of spring, and continue to bloom in phases until late summer. Supposedly, each subsequent phase should be a bit more profuse than the previous; but not all plants are aware of this. They might bloom best in mid summer, and less profusely later. ‘Alba’ blooms white. Pale foliage indicates a need for fertilizer.

Blue plumbago is not as easy to work with as it seems to be. Once established, it can grow like a weed, and really seems to take care of itself, and it is probably better to allow it to do so. It does not like to be shorn into hedges or geometric shapes as it so often is. Shearing ruins the natural form, eliminates most of the outer canes that provide bloom, and exposes sparse interior growth.

Brachyscome

70125Most of the brachyscome found in nurseries nowadays are the annual Brachyscome iberidifolia. Perennial species are rare. The name is still often spelled as ‘brachycome’, without the ‘s’, as it had been spelled for decades. Although it is a warm season annual, brachyscome is also popular now because it can bloom better through the locally mild winters than the warmth of mid summer.

The blue, lavender, pink, yellow or pale white flowers are like tiny aster flowers. The finely textured foliage forms soft mounds about a foot deep, or mixes nicely with sturdier plants. Brachyscome might work better as a component to urns of mixed annuals rather than as a uniform bedding plant. It likes full sun exposure, but tolerates a bit of shade. Deadheading promotes continued bloom.

Blue Hibiscus

70118Like euryops daisy, sweet pea shrub and New Zealand tea tree, the blue hibiscus, Alyogyne huegelii, blooms whenever it wants to, even if it wants to bloom sporadically through winter. It should bloom more abundantly in phases though spring and summer, but even that is difficult to predict. The three inch wide flowers are lavender blue, but can be rich purple or white. Pink is very rare.

Young plants can grow quickly but sparsely. Lanky stems can be tip pruned after a spring bloom phase to promote branching and improve density. Growth slows with maturity. Plants can get five feet high and wide in their second year, but might never reach the eaves. They like full sun and shelter from wind, but should not mind a bit of shade. Established plants do not need much water.