Alstroemerias are perennials from South America and are commonly called Peruvian lilies though they are not truly lilies at all. There are lots of interesting species, some of which have amazing colour combinations and flower markings and they are impossible not to love. Everyone has bought or been given a bunch of flowers that contained alstroemerias and they are perfect for this purpose, having unbranched stems, long-lasting blooms and the buds open in water. Two weeks is not unlikely in a vase.
But they have a bit of a reputation as garden plants. They are variously described as invasive or hard to grow and not hardy. All these are true up to a point. The first problem is that the cheapest kinds are often sold as bare roots in packs and that is not the way to start! They hate root disturbance and planting bare, dried out tubers (for they are not bulbs) is heading for disaster. The plants are likely to ‘Ligtu hybrids’ (above). These are based on the species A. ligtu, from the Andes in Chile. The best way to start is to buy pots of plants or buy seed. I have done this and sowed two seeds per pot and planted them out when the plants were established. Because they will be killed if the tubers get frosted, dig out a nice hole and plant the youngsters so they are in a depression about 8cm deep. As they grow and the stems get longer the hole will fill in and the base of the plant will be nice and deep. The problem with ‘Ligtu hybrids’ is that they flower for a short time, but even so they are bold and there is a good range of colour.
A short flowering time is the problem with Alstroemeria aurea too. This species from Chile to Argentina grows to more than 1m high and has showy yellow or orange flowers. But it seeds prolifically where happy and can run too so it is invasive – no doubt about it!
Once mature, almost every stem on an alstroemeria will carry a clusters of flowers. An interesting feature of the plants is that the leaves always turn through 180degrees and are effectively upside down.
The commercial cutflower types have a different ancestry and bloom all summer and now these have been used to create garden varieties. The ‘Princess lilies’ were the first but now there are lots of different series. Some are very good garden plants such as ‘Indian Summer’ (below) which has bright flowers set against dark leaves.
I have a dislike for the very short ones that are the result of trying to make a petunia out of an alstroemeria but I have to concede that they are good at the front of the garden and in pots where they do the job of a bedding plant but they are perennial. I have one that has been in a pot for years and is thriving on neglect so credit where its due!
Here is a very small one in a border – not my kind of plant – I want tall stems for cutting – but it is colourful and no nonsense.