Johannesburg - There’s nothing quite like walking out into the warmth of a spring garden. And the blaze of colour afforded us by the brilliant orange flowers of Clivia miniata must surely earn it the title of South Africa’s most spectacular indigenous spring flower.
Named after the Duchess of Northumberland (Lady Charlotte Clive) who first cultivated and flowered the foremost specimen in England, they were once only grown in the darkest, shadiest parts of older gardens.
But now, because of huge demand the world over, they’ve been brought out into the spotlight. Yes, we all know the orange variety, but local breeders have been busy producing new colours, such as dusky rose pink, ivory-green, bronze-brown, picotee and versicolour.
And it’s the greens that are most in demand among Clivia collectors. Changing the landscape was the famous green flowered Hirao that was imported from Japan and snapped up by breeders and growers here.
Crosses with other varieties have produced variations of yellow, cream and green flowers, many with green throats or stripes, or green with pale pink picotee edging.
But be warned: if you’re looking for these “specials”, you may end up spending up to R4 000 per plant, so a green flowered Clivia may be outside your budget.
But do go to specialist nurseries where you may find more affordable beauties in pastel shades of cream, pale yellow, peach, apricot and pink.
And now you have them – what will your next step be?
Originally forest plants, Clivia are happy in the shade, flowering best in dappled shade. They will grow in darker areas but not flower as well.
Plant them in those difficult-to-grow-anything areas: under big trees, in dry shade or along south-facing walls.
Planting in full sun is not a good idea, as their broad leaves will get burnt. Frost in really cold areas may do the same, so grow them in pots so that you can move them to more protected areas in winter.
After flowering, don’t remove the red or yellow seed heads – they’re really attractive and won’t affect next season’s flowers.
They’re really low maintenance. Just improve the planting area with some acid compost and general-purpose fertiliser before planting, and feed immediately after flowering, with a top-up againin late summer.
When it comes to watering, they prefer good drainage and, once established, are remarkably drought-hardy. In summer, water them once a week during dry periods, reducing watering from May to July to once a month.
They aren’t that bugged by pests, but while doing your rounds in the garden, do keep an eye open for the yellow and black-striped Lily borer (Amaryllis caterpillar) and get rid of them immediately.
These are incredibly voracious and will totally destroy all of your plants in a matter of days.
Hand removal is best, but there are organic solutions available to help you control this nasty nunu.
If you have a severe infestation, there are also chemical sprays you can use.
But rather be kind to yourself and the environment first, and only use these as a last resort.
l Don’t miss Melanie in Gardening 101 on The Home Channel (DStv 176) on Tuesdays at 9pm, with seven repeats throughout the week.