A rather special plant today that is another slide scan (so not great quality) because I no longer grow it, but I did in a previous life because this is a plant I grew at Myddelton House. Looking like the world’s most exotic daffodil, Pamianthe peruviana is a South American member of the Amaryllidaceae. There it grows as an epiphyte on branches and the base of trees and rocks with long bulbs, completely above the soil and thick roots.
It is named after Major Albert Pam who lived at Wormley Bury, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire who was responsible for its introduction. He did introduce other South American bulbs.
He was born in Surrey in 1875 and travelled in Europe when young, learning German and French. He became a stock broker and in 1914 was sent to Chile by British Intelligence to find the German cruiser the Dresden after a battle in the Falkland Islands. By the time he got there the Dresden had been sunk by the British so he returned to the UK but not before stopping at Buenos Aires zoo to collect some flamingos, geese and ducks to bring back. These were for London Zoo but he had his own collection at home, including wallabies. He joined the British Army in 1915 till 1918 and, for six months, was involved in the negotiations for the German surrender. After that he became a partner in Schroders bank. But he did not forget South America and in 1926 he went on a bulb-collecting expedition to Peru. It was on this trip that he collected the bulb that bears his name.
He was a friend of EA Bowles and there is a snowdrop, ‘Major Pam’ (or ‘Pamski’) that I assume was named after him by Bowles. Major Pam bought the property from Sir Abraham Hume who had created a magnificent garden, complete with stove house by 1817, full of exotics imported from India, and Pam discovered more than 60 rare plants in the garden when he took it over. Among these was ‘Hume’s Blush Tea scented rose’, the first tea rose brought from China in the UK (1810) and the rose that was necessary to bring the continuous flowering habit to our modern roses.
So pamianthe has a long and interesting back story. It is not an impossible plant to grow but the soil mix should be very free-draining and be rather like an orchid mix with little loam. It needs shade and it can be grown in the home as well as a greenhouse as long as temperatures do not drop below 10c in winter. The flowers are huge and 25cm long and a short scape appears from between the leaves and produces a pair of white, very fragrant flowers. The plant at Myddelton was presumably obtained directly from Major Pam and it had survived many years of minimal care. With a little effort it thrived and I once took it to a flower show in Chelsea where I had numerous substantial offers of money for the pot of a dozen or so bulbs with many flowers open. The bulbs often flop from the vertical, which makes sense for an epiphyte, so it can take up a lot of room but it is worth the effort for the marvellous flowers which are usually produced in late winter and spring. Bulbs are sometimes offered for sale and it can also be grown from seed.