This colorful clump of African lily (A. africanus) is a highlight of the garden in late Spring while the evergreen foliage remains handsome throughout the year.
There are about 10 species of Agapanthus, all native to southern Africa. Agapanthus praecox, A. africanus and various hybrids are most often grown in American gardens. African lily grows as an ever expanding clump of evergreen strap shaped leaves around 12 in (30 cm) or a little more in length. There are up to 18 leaves, arranged in two ranks. The dark blue flowers are trumpet shaped, 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) wide, and borne in rounded umbels containing as many as 30 blossoms. These flower clusters are 6-12 in (15-30 cm) across, and held above the leaves on scapes 2-3 ft (60-75 cm) tall. Flowers appear in late summer and are long lasting. The African lily cultivar 'Peter Pan' is a dwarf, with its scape reaching little more than 18 in (45 cm) in height, but what it lacks in stature is compensated for by its profusion of long lasting deep blue flowers. 'Albus' is a white flowered cultivar. The Headbourne Hybrids (aka Palmer Hybrids) include several cultivars that are hardier than the species and available in various shades of blue and violet as well as white.
All species of the genus Agapanthus, including A. africanus, A. praecox, A. campanulatus, are native to southern Africa.
African lily is a strong evergreen perennial that tolerates neglect, poor soils, and salty coastal conditions. Light: African lily does best in full sun, but can take some afternoon shade. Moisture: Water African lilies regularly in summer, but reduce watering during the winter dormant season. Well established plantings are fairly drought tolerant, but may not bloom if not given plenty of water during spring and summer. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-11. African lily is moderately frost tolerant, but when grown in exposed locations in zone 8, the roots should be mulched in winter. The Headbourne Hybrids are hardy to zone 6, tolerating temperatures considerably below freezing. However, even these should be mulched in winter to protect the roots. Propagation: It's easy to propagate African lilies by dividing the clumps of thick, fleshy roots. This is best done in spring, at the start of new growth. Bury them 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) deep. Plants grown from seed will take 2-3 years to flower and may not resemble the parent.
This is closeup of a flower of Agapanthus praecox subsp. orientalis, a popular perennnial grown in warm climate gardens around the world. Click here to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
African lilies are usually grown in borders or as edging along a driveway or path, but I like to see them in irregular clumps in perennial beds. They seem to do best when a little overcrowded, and are therefore well suited to container cultivation. In cooler climates African lilies are grown in containers that can be moved indoors in winter. They are popular as potted plants at poolside, and on decks and porches. The flowers of African lily last quite long and are great as cut flowers. Even the seed pods are attractive and can be used in dried arrangements.
The most popular lily-of-the-nile grown in America is A. praecox although it is often sold as A. africanus. Not to worry, though as they are very similar to one another and every bit as desirable. If you live in zone 8 or warmer, you should definitely have some Agapanthus in your garden!
The plantsman, Lewis Palmer, of Headbourne Worthy, U.K., created many cultivars and hybrids of Agapanthus during the 1950's and 60's. Many of his hybrids are popular today and still used in the breeding of newer cultivars.