Our agapanthus abundance began small, which is the way all garden abundance does, unless you are rich like the Prince of Wales and can buy 20,000 carpet thyme plants in one go to create an instant thyme walk, of which I am not at all jealous.
One of the great joys of being a gardener is watching plants increase and grow. That dead-looking stick you plant in winter becomes a small, green leafed apple tree in spring. Five years later you are crunching its apples. Fifty years later its dappled shade shelters family picnics in summer and each winter its broad trunk and branches become a lichened sculpture.
Bulbs and rhizomes multiply. Buy half a dozen, and you'll have 12 the next year, 24 the next, then 48… Live long enough and you will have abundance.
I bought my first agapanthus about twenty years ago. I'd avoided them till then – old-fashioned agapanthus can become a major weed, setting seed and spreading much further than you'd ever expect. But new varieties promised that they were non-seeding and therefore had nil weed potential. I gave them a go.
And, so far, our aggies have grown obediently, i.e. no seedlings have sprung up (I check each year). But the ones planted about a metre apart have now spread, so that they are a thick line of aggies outside the bedroom and bathroom windows, so we now look out onto a curtain of aggies all mid-summer, and especially around many of our trees.
Much tree death is due to over-eager mowers or whippersnipper wielders who accidentally mow too close to the trunk and injure the base of the tree. Occasionally this results in an untidy forest of suckers erupting around the base of the tree but other times rot of some kind enters and slowly – long after the injury – the tree dies. A cordon of aggies makes close mowing impossible.
After the first aggies proved docile, I bought others, though never more than six at a time, and usually only two at a time due to what in political circles are called 'budgetary constraints' but in our household it's a choice between paying the car rego and buying more plants.
And the aggies have grown, in the most wonderful profusion of blues, from a soft pale blue like a Hobart summer to an almost velvety purple and a dozen shades in between. There are also white ones, but these are accidental, as I am married to a man who thinks a white flower is a waste of potential when a gaudy bloom could have taken its place.
Every avid plant collector has to face the sad fact that your plants will not always be the colour you were told that you were buying or even, in some cases, not even the same variety, partly due to human error, which happens in every industry, but also because plants cross-pollinate or send out 'sports' i.e. one offspring is slightly or even very different from the parent plant.
This means that if you are planting for display purposes and want a uniform colour, you need to quickly hoik out any that show a touch of originality. Two yellow tulips in three hundred red ones does change the nature of the display. But I prefer diversity, in my garden as in other areas of life, and luckily there are so many blue aggies at this time of year that my husband forgives the white ones. Or at least hasn't attacked them yet with a shovel.
Aggies also vary slightly in their blooming time, with early, medium and late varieties as well as tall, medium and diminutive. Our deep purple ones are only just opening now, while the pale blue ones are dependable for Christmas holiday visitors. I also planted winter blooming varieties that flowered once mid winter then decided to flower in summer with everyone else.
Aggies also respond to care and cosseting. Yes, a weedy aggie growing on a sunny, shale-y slope will bloom, but not for long – the flower will fade faster than if the plant had been fed and watered, and there'll be far fewer flowers per plant and the season of blooms will also be much shorter. You may get a bloom or two from an aggie planted in too much shade or one that is dealing with competition for food and water from the tree, but you won't get a mass flowering nor will they bloom for long.
And, yes, two decades later, I am glad I didn't have the money for an instant aggie garden early on. I've had the joy of see a few become a multitude. I also know that the ones that have multiplied best are those that are most suited to our garden and so will flower longer. But each year I still do the aggie seedling patrol, no matter how much I love them, just in case.
This week I am:
. picking bright red and yellow gladioli, which are late this year;
. wondering where I planted the basil … this year's combination of extreme heat and where-are- my-long- johns cold, plus extreme dry followed by days with a slight shower each evening has been great for a green valley and grass growth, but sadly also for powdery and downy mildew … even the zucchini have been inhibited;
. missing the sight of kids playing in the creek so much that I've not sat there since they left;
. realising again why a home-grown apricot – or at least a friend or relative with an apricot tree – is a necessity if you want an apricot with rich taste and perfect (i.e. not floury) texture;
. eating home-grown strawberries and raspberries very, very slowly, to savour the taste of summer in each one; and
. noticing I haven't picked any runner beans yet and they are already too big and tough to bother with. But the seeds will be delicious in the next minestrone.
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