Morning walks along the coast of Falmouth are my morning ritual. Each month the scenery around me evolves. The light of each season fluctuates from dark skies to glimmering sunrises. The plants change from buds to blooms and while the waters warm, the sea gradually fills with swimmers and paddleboarders.
As we enter August, the season of the agapanthus is upon us and my sunrise strolls are populated with purple dollops of bold-headed flowers with long, green stems.
Blue or white flowers which rise above elongated leaves on stately stems - they are easy to fall in love with and are widely admired in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. So much so that during the brutally cold winter of 1987 when many agapanthuses on the Scilly isles were killed, the islanders ensured their return by reintroducing them to their gardens.
Although they love lots of sun and regular watering, particularly when they are growing, Agapanthus also withstand Cornwall’s strong, coastal winds, drought, heavy rain and sea salt spray. They can be seen in many local Cornish gardens and dotted along the coastal path, especially along Cliff Road in Falmouth.
Long-lasting, and blooming from early July until September, they are bold and architectural with stunning flowers - a true joy to paint.
This beautiful flower is not only loved by the West Country but appeared centre stage in one of Monet’s modernist and abstract paintings ‘agapanthus’ 1914-1926, he planted many in his home garden.
Agapanthus even pops up in Harry Potter when Dumbledore says to Vernon Dursley ‘It’s been a long time since my last visit I must say your agapanthus are flourishing’.
The agapanthus, or African Lily, originates from South Africa and was introduced to Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century.
In South Africa, dried agapanthus root is placed as a necklace around a bride’s neck to ensure the wearer has powerful children and an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, it’s used as a protection against thunderstorms, and is always harvested in winter after seed formation - as harvesting in summer is believed to cause severe storms.
Their root is used for heart disease, paralysis, colds, chest pains and fever due to the presence of saponin - a substance that has anti-inflammatory properties that support the immune system and is cough resistant.
The first mention of them in literature dates from 1679. The imported species were often donated to botanical gardens and orangeries because they didn’t know what temperatures or climate they would survive in.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that efforts were made to create new hybrids. An RHS treasurer William Palmer bred today’s popular Headbowne Hybrids. Now there are over 600 agapanthus cultivators that can be distinguished by: their colour (various shades of white and blue), their flower form (funnel, trumpet, star or tubular), their foliage colour, their foliage width and length, their flowering period and their stem thickness.
Formed from two Greek words: love and flower, It owes its current name to the director of the ‘Jardin des plantes’ in Paris, l’Heritier who named it agapanthus umbrellatus in 1789.
As this beautiful plant increases in popularity and more people are looking to grow them in their own homes there are a few key points to learn and remember if you are to care for them properly. When growing agapanthus it’s important to know: the more sun the better, don’t put them too close to vigorous perennials as they can be overshadowed, and their roots are restricted in their natural habitats so they’re perfect for container growing. If you place 2 or 3 small plants in a 30cm container, you can leave them happily without repotting for a few years, the key is that the containers must be able to drain well.
For all of those who share the same love for gorgeous agapanthus as me, but perhaps don’t have the time or space to sacrifice for the growth of these giant, delicate plants, my botanical illustration prints will inject agapanthus resplendence into your space and hopefully even spark a reminder of Cornwall’s wild coast.