06 August, 2010

Vlei lilies in Plum Creek

At the edge of the wheat-fields and along the road side verges, where the farmers spray weed-killer and the authorities send out teams with ride on mowers. One of the plants they fight, in the boggy hollows where the winter rain collects, is this vlei lily. Wurmbea stricta

I have enjoyed exploring vernal pools in Californian blogs Miramar-Mounds and Santa-Rosa-Plateau-San-Diego.Vernal – snow-melt – how romantic and fairy tale that sounds, compared to winter rain sodding down. Altho this July we only got half what we got last year. Vleis and pans are our seasonal wetlands. Baked dry and hard, or shrunk back to a tiny remnant in summer. Then when it rains, lush arums and reeds.  

Driving home from Cape Town, late yesterday afternoon, we stopped to photograph these flowers. Some just starting to show their green spears, some showing the first colour, and others already in a luminous drift. The white flowers shimmering with their burgundy twirled hearts.

The buds tightly furled parachute silk, and the flowers opening from the bottom of the spike. You can see why this has been a coveted plant on my wish list for thirty gardening years. I tried seeds, but getting a bog plant to germinate was too much of a challenge for me. Then we went to the Rare Plant Fair and I could get bulbs.

We needed, a swale to cope with floods in a winter downpour when the heavens open, and a bog garden for arum lilies, reeds and red hot pokers, Wachendorfia and these vlei lilies. In September 2007 we started with the inherited plum trees. Build a bridge. Dig a hole. And add plants, while the gardener whines with impatience. The wall has open panels at the bottom – hoping the wildlife will take the hint and come this way please. And also to let the flood water move on/away. Cats slip thru as an escape route too.

And just one year later, that hole is filled with nature’s bounty of green. Hey, we all like to dangle our toes in cool water in summer thank you. In July looking across to Paradise. 

Another year. That January we had plums, not this year tho. Looking across the bridge in March. Then in May the optimistic bulbs went into their clay pots in the bog … By November the restios are tall with their spirals of flowers.

And now we have buds

And flowers in our garden.

Colchicum (crocus, saffron) family. Formerly Onixotis (which is what my label said!) Deep seated corm. 3 narrow dark green leaves. Tepals varying in colour from pure white to pale pink.  Wurmbea stricta is a common species in seasonally inundated swamps and pools, and in roadside ditches, occurring in heavy clay soil. It grows in full sun and is found throughout the southwestern, western and northern parts of the Western Cape, and in southern Namaqualand. It likes company and forms large colonies, often flowering en masse. The flower spikes appear from late winter to late spring, blooming for a period of two to three weeks. Wurmbea is named after F. von Wurmb, a Dutch merchant in Java. The specific epithet stricta from Latin, meaning very straight, refers to the leaves that resemble knitting needles. Honey bees pollinate the flowers. The corms are planted in early autumn, to rest 3-4 cm below soil level. They are well suited to deep containers, rock garden pockets and herbaceous borders, and must preferably have full sun for at least half the day, in order to flower successfully. Potted specimens can also be submerged into shallow garden ponds, allowing about 5 cm of water above the rim of the pot, and removed and dried off completely in early summer. 

Pictures by Jurg and Diana, words by Diana of Elephant's Eye


  1. Dear Diana of EE, What an exceptionally beautiful plant you feature here and one which I have no previous knowledge of. It does look magnificent in the wild and I congratulate you on your tenacity in getting it to grow in your garden. How very satisfying that is when it happens!!

  2. What beautiful photos! I love temporary ponds and swales for their rich and ephemeral bounty of plants and wildlife. Frogs rely on them too!

  3. Your story had a happy ending, you were able to source and grow that coveted plant. The labor involved in making a bog garden for it must have been considerable. I don't know that my back would have been up to it;)

    Christine in Alaska

  4. What an exquisitely beautiful bloom, I'm so glad you were able to find it for your garden.

  5. Rainforest - who told you we have just drained the pond, again, so the frogs are having to move out to the swale suburbs ;-) ?

    Christine - digging is the Ungardener's preserve, and my back was done in by Monday's rose pruning.

  6. FROM http://jeansgarden.wordpress.com
    Still can't leave comments on your blog, so will leave it here: Another inspired piece of landscape design, and I'd love to be able to grow those flowers! –Jean

  7. Good Morning EE, Your garden looks so beautiful and brava you were able to grow a prized flower. Prized by some... not the farmers obviously... too bad about the weed killer. Your photos are lovely!

  8. In Sweden farmers are spraying with weed killer less and less and a lot of the old favorites flowers are coming back along the roads. Beautiful and charming!
    Have a good weekend.
    All the best,
    Ingrid x

  9. Oh, congratulations! It's really not so easy to make the wetland plants work out. And what a beauty!

    I've been thinking of trying a vernal pool, but they're kind of tricky, and need sun...Probably won't work.

  10. What a lovely plant! No wonder you (and/or the Ungardener) :) went to all that work for it! I'll bet creating that new little ecosystem has had all kinds of other unexpected rewards, too.

    Here in New Mexico (SW USA) a lot of plant nurseries are now carrying South African plants because they do well in our arid climate. These lilies would probably need too much winter moisture for us, alas. Enjoyed discovering your blog!

  11. Vlei lilies! Those are new to me, and very pretty. Here in rainy Houston, bog gardens are all the rage. Maybe there is some form of Vlei lily that's available locally. Thanks for introducing me to a new plant!

  12. A new plant to me... and a lovely look at how Plum Creek has developed.
    Are you also having trouble commenting at blogger? I am having to use the name/URL function as the Open ID is not working for anyone.

  13. The plant you introduced here is beautiful, and as always it's fun to get glimpses of your garden. Love the wooden bridge.

  14. Lovely flowers! i like how they look - little dots on the green background. I also love your little bridge! Nice shots of your garden.

  15. So beautiful when I drop by here.

    Thanks for the kind thoughts, and yes part of it is ezceama. But the other part is much worse. Allergy testing in November, I've lived with this all of my life, just now it is overwhelming.



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