Saturday, 22 June 2019

Solitary Tails

A couple of years ago I planted a Foxtail Lily in our back garden. Although I prepared the soil with care I was not wholly optimistic about the venture. They are regarded as tricky, and their other name of Desert Candles hints at their habitat in the wild.

In their magnificent book The Flora of the Silk Road, Christopher and Basak Gardner (See ref.) write of the conditions these plants occupy in the wild:  'Central Asia is the best place in the world to see these striking flowers'. They go on to provide more detail: '… high above the meadows of the Aksu-Dzabagly in southern Kazakhstan during their thousands on stony slopes'. And again: ...truly abundant on areas of slatey rocks from the ancient Karatau Mountains...'

Hardly a description of conditions in a Daventry garden.

'Flora of the Silk Road' available from good booksellers (and therefore
ruling out W.H.Smith). A wonderful read.
Fortunately a handful out of the fifty or so species in the genus - and given the remote areas in which they occur, more may be found - are amenable to cultivation and our back garden plant appears to be happy. It is probably Eremurus x isabellinus, a hybrid between Eremurus olgae and E. stenophyllus.

Last year we had three flower spikes but this year there are six. Our
garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry. 22 June, 2019
The fleshy roots, resembling a spindly starfish, are brittle and need to be spread out carefully when they are handled. Their natural habitats suggest very well-drained, gravelly or gritty conditions, and that is what I tried to provide.
At close on six feet high they are dominating what passes for our back

Forty years ago, when I first heard of Eremuruses (Eremuri?) they were only to be obtained from specialist growers, but garden centres are now making them more readily available. E. x isabellinus is of a distinctive salmon colour, difficult to fit in to a colour scheme but, to quote from Gone with the Wind, 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.' And nor do bees; they love the flowers. Oh, and the word Eremurus comes from the Greek eremos, solitary, and oura, a tail. But of course you knew that.


Gardner, C and G. (2014) Flora of the Silk Road: An Illustrated Guide. I.B.Tauris

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