The flower of Worsleya procera looks like a lily, but it’s wisteria-purple, a colour you never get in a lily. One of its common names is blue hippeastrum, which doesn’t suit it as well as another, Empress of Brazil, which at least captures its sense of drama. The throat of the flower is white and as the petals extend, each with a ruffled edge, the colour builds in lines to be richest at the petals’ tips. A handful of blooms unfold from the single flowering stem so it’s quite a show, but I’d grow it even if those blue December blooms never appeared.
Some plants you grow only for their flowers. Hibiscus, for example: really, who’d bother if it weren’t for those stunning blooms. But others are fabulous, flowers or not, and this is one of them. Grey-blue, silky-smooth leaves curve out of the central stem, all in the same direction, so that rather than a fountain effect it creates a kind a rooster’s tail, but longer, firmer – and green. Or a ponytail, complete, with a curling twist at the end.
These fabulous good looks are augmented by rarity, and the fact that it’s the only child in the species, so that Worsleya is a kind of secret handshake amongst plant lovers who, spying it on a fellow gardener’s terrace feel an instant rapport.
In its native Brazil Worsleya grows on rock faces in subtropical rainforests among lichens and mosses where hot days and cool humid nights result in heavy dew and persistent mist. Replicating those conditions at home means it’s best grown in a pot in a free-draining mix of orchid bark mixed with coconut peat or pea gravel. Water it daily and protect it from afternoon sun. Find it occasionally at Growing Friends at the Botanic gardens, or at plant fairs and shows.
Slightly less rare, but with a similarly desirable flat foliage effect, like a plant pressed to grow between the pages of a book, is Aloe plicatilis. Where Worsleya grows in just one direction, this aloe grows in two, symmetrically, with the thick succulent leaves lined up tight like a partly opened fan, giving it the common name of fan aloe. It’s endemic to just a few mountains in the Fynbos of South Africa. Slowly, over decades, it will get to 5m, with multiple fans on a thick corky trunk, but so far at my place it’s happy, small and handsome in a pot. A sunny spot with well-drained soil is essential, whether in a pot or garden bed.
Smitten by Worsleya and A. plicatilis, I fell for another fan at Collectors Plant Fair this year, the irresistibly named Boophone (boo-oh-foe-nee). There are two to choose from: Boophone disticha, which was used to tip poison arrows by the Hottentots, Bushmen and Bantu of its native South Africa and grows in a fan of straight leaves; and Boophone hameanthoides, which looks like it stuck its finger in the electricity socket and ended up with a tightly frizzled perm. Each leaf of the fan is wavy-edged for maximum startle effect.
Apparently both these African bulbs will flower with single enormous pink-red heads. The aloe too promises to burst into bloom late one winter with spires of orange-red flowers. Though I’d miss the summer show of blue blooms on the Worsleya I’m not really fussed if none of these flowers. My collection of fans doesn’t need flowers to make it exotic.
It’s time to
Perennial Hill is a English-style flower garden on the sunny side of ‘The Gib’ in Mittagong. It’s open weekends until mid-December, 10am-4pm, $7. www.perennialhill.com.au
Deadhead spent blooms and give plants a supplementary feed of specialised rose food, such as Sudden Impact for Roses.
For long-lasting colour in the sun, try petunias. The dark purple ones have an evening fragrance so are good for pots near the outdoor table.
Cut back lavender after each flush of flowers to promote another flush.