I have to admit that whittling down the list of possible ‘chocolates’ for this advent calendar consumed the better part of a day (that should’ve otherwise been spent doing other kinds of writing and editing that pay bills). More so, it was about sorting through lists of plants that I’ve made in the last month ahead of this new project (oh, that’s right…still a secret!) Think of it as de-listing the lists, or something utterly confusing like that.
One recurring group of plants in each draft of my list were the Alstroemeria, that heart-throb genus of so-called Peruvian lilies that hail from botanically mouth-watering provenances like the Andes. A few individuals have taken an interest in their perennialization (at least for northern temperate gardens) and improvement in the last few years, with sadly not much fanfare or public acceptance. The genus itself is home to some wild and crazy kids, hell bent on growing in nothing more than chalky, rock outcroppings–nothing close to the average garden’s soil. If you think your soil sucks, think again.
So sparing you the chocolate candy you just can’t have, I decided to feature one member of the tribe that you can–Alstroemeria psittacina ‘Variegata’. The species is so amenable to American gardens, it’s even escaped into the wild in Mississippi and Louisiana, at least according to herbarium records (sounds like a horticultural whodunit in the works). Tsk, tsk. Not to cultivate zonal denial–the plant still is only hardy through Zone 6b at best, and at that can wilt into summer dormancy in places where the soil temperature rises into the 70s and 80s. Florally, it reminds me of an azalea with a bad, color-blind tailor, though garish enough to warrant abundant planting. I mean, seriously, who can’t resist lipstick red flowers (even if they look like a gown stitched on a broken sowing machine) smattering in clouds over wild, splashy variegated foliage? I can’t. But then again, it’s not hardy for me, so I’ll grow it vicariously, since I’m long ‘over’ the digging and cellaring phase of my gardening life (at one time I think I had more cannas in my basement than Imelda Marcos had shoes, but I digress).
Colorful prose aside, this plant is really quite seductive en masse, just as I found in my friend Sean Hogan’s garden in Portland, Oregon a few summers back. Planted in the hell strip along the sidewalk in front of his house, it didn’t mind a bit. Undeniably tough, if you do live in a climate where its escape into wild areas might happen, take care to bound it with concrete or electric fencing. Merry Christmas, indeed!