It is frustrating to nurture a particular plant all growing season and to have it come into bloom just as fall frosts occur so that it either freezes before it can put forth its display of bloom or else it requires constant covering to protect it from frost so that its flowers can be enjoyed. This was the case a number of years ago when I would grow acidanthera – just as buds appeared, so would Jack Frost! For that reason, I have not grown these lovely flowers for a number of years, but this year I decided to give them another try, and I was determined to find a way to ensure that I got to reap the benefits of my labours by doing something different.
I decided to emulate our farmers, who are always reinventing how to do things – they always seem to have a Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work out. Acidanthera are grown from small corms, so I purchased my corms in the spring and in early April I planted them into a large pot and placed it in my all-season sunroom. Soon the leaves appeared, but I knew the plants would get too soft and leggy if left in the sunroom so I put the pot in my cold frame in early April. The cold frame has a heater in it for cold nights, but often during warm, sunny spring days the lid is off so the plants get well hardened off and do not get leggy. If you don’t have a cold frame, setting the pot outdoors on warm spring days would work. By mid-May (like gladioli, acidanthera will tolerate light spring frosts) I had a nice pot of acidanthera whose leaves were about 30 cm tall, so I chose the spot where I wanted them to grow in my outdoor garden – a sunny spot was chosen. I simply dug a hole, slipped the whole root ball out of the pot and into the ground, without disturbing the roots to any extent. I had planted 15 corms – they are much smaller than gladioli corms – in a large 10-inch pot so the plants were quite close together, but they have not seemed to object to being planted that closely together.
Since the plants were perfectly hardened off, they never looked back and by mid-August the buds appeared and the plants began to bloom. Acidanthera prefer the same growing conditions as gladioli – lots of sun, lots of water, and deeply dug, fertile soil with good drainage. They have put on a grand display of bloom; since they are relatives of the gladioli they have similar leaves, albeit somewhat narrower, so they add a grassy-type foliage to the garden and produce lovely white trumpet-shaped flowers with deep-purple centres. The blooms are very fragrant – one of the reasons that I had missed these plants in my garden. I was able to use a couple of stems in a bouquet in our local flower show in mid-August, which I never dreamed of doing before I enacted Plan B to grow my acidanthera.
In the late fall I will simply dig up the clump of acidanthera, bring it into the sunroom and let the foliage die back naturally while I withhold water, then take the corms out of the soil and store them in peat moss in a cool, dry, dark location where I keep my gladioli corms. Next spring I will follow the same procedure to give my acidanthera an early start to ensure I get to enjoy every last bloom of these delightful flowers.
– Albert Parsons writes from