British Alstro

Now is as good a time as any to be proudly British.

Because, why not?

Also, with more interest in buying local and supporting smaller, homegrown companies closer to where we live, why not add Alstroemeria to that list?

British Grown

Some of us may remember a time when 90% of the flowers supplied in the UK were British grown. We were all going along swimmingly until a fuel price hike in the UK and Dutch government subsidies turned the tables in the 1970’s.

Up until a few years ago, the percentage of British grown flowers sold in the UK was less than 15%. And 90% of that was going to the supermarkets. But that is starting to change.

Although Dutch flower companies have been one step ahead in the flower industry since the 70’s, government subsidies have recently started being phased out which is having a impact on their production.

With many campaigns encouraging greater enthusiasm for British flowers, the demand for British grown flowers is steadily growing.

If you’re in England and buying Alstroemeria grown in British soil, there’s no doubt you’ll be getting a better quality plant. It makes sense to buy plants that don’t have to travel for weeks to get to your door.

Think about how we humans often feel after travelling a few hours on a plane.

Not a pretty sight...

British Bred

Although Alstroemeria originate from South America the first new varieties were bred in Spalding, Lincolnshire by plant breeder John Goemans, becoming known as 'the father of alstroemeria’. He was the first in the world to grow Alstroemeria commercially under glass, introducing the first Alstroemeria variety specifically intended for glasshouse growing in 1959.

By the late 60’s breeding really took off with his launch of pink ‘Ballerina’ - the first of about 50 new varieties he developed over the years for the garden and cut-flower industry. This led to Alstroemeria becoming one of the major glasshouse grown cut flower crops in the world today. In 2018 John Goemans’ company 'Parigo' was taken over by Alec White of Primrose Hall Peonies, where the growing and breeding continues.

There are now about 250 different varieties of alstroemeria available in Britain. We grow over 200 varieties on our 8 acre nursery based in rural Bedfordshire, including original British bred Parigo varieties (such as ‘Apollo’, ‘Friendship’ and the ‘Little Miss’ series), the ‘Colorita’ (‘Princess’) series, ‘Inca’ series, ‘Planet’ series and Inticancha collection. Some of our favourites are ‘Rock ‘n Roll’ and ‘Colorita Fabiana’ with their beautiful and unusual variegated leaves.

Alstroemeria are marvelous because of their comparatively long vase-life (up to 2-3 weeks) and have a long, prolific flowering season.

And strong stems & long bracts make British grown alstro a first prize choice. Also, known as a ‘dry’ and a ‘cool’ crop, they require very little watering or heating.

So they are a sustainability win too!

Gives us reason to be even more proudly British.

And that’s why we love ‘em.

Caring for your Alstroemeria

It could be said that Alstroemeria are a bit like Goldfish. Such an easy pet. You just sprinkle a few flakes at them everyday and keep those air bubbles going and there you have it. Much ado about nothin’!

Well, in a similar way Alstroemeria are such vigorous bloomers they don’t need much encouragement to keep going and growing.

But how much care does an Alstroemeria really need?

Here are some guidelines to help you along:

Feeding

Alstroemeria are hungry little creatures, so regular weekly feeds through growing season from May to September is recommended and will encourage them to flower well and repeatedly. A high potash fertiliser is recommended such as our Alstroemeria Feed.

Mulching

All of the Alstroemeria plant varieties we grow are garden winter hardy but, for the first couple of winters while they are establishing, it will be best to mulch well to make sure your new plants are protected until they are well established and can get through the winter without any assistance.

Watering

Alstroemeria are reasonably drought tolerant but will need regular watering during the summer months. If your Alstroemeria are planted in containers these tend to dry out quicker so make sure to keep the ground moist but don’t over water.

Alstroemeria need free draining soil. This is essential for them to grow well and establish in the normal way. The root system doesn’t like to be waterlogged as this can cause the roots to rot and likely cause it to die.

Picking Flowers

Alstroemeria are fabulous flowers in a vase and can last many weeks. A few tips for picking your own Alstroemeria are as follows:

Pick at the point when the buds are not yet open but have colour and looking ready to pop. They will last longer in the vase if picked at this point.

You’ll want to get hold of the stem about halfway down and give it a gentle twist followed by a sharp tug which will pull out the stem. This ensures that there are no pieces of stem left to rot which can cause fungal disease to build up on the root.

Pulling the flowering stem at the base and ripping it from the ground also encourages the plant to re-flower as it produces another bud under the ground. They‘ll then keep producing an endless supply of flowers for every vase in the home throughout the Summer.

It is best to allow the plant to become firmly established (so at least one Summer to pass after planting) until employing this method. You can still have fresh flowers by cutting them instead until the roots have had time to establish.

Dead heading

Once all the flowers in a cluster head have faded and died, remove the whole stem with a gentle tug, the same method as picking. This encourages further flower stems to sprout and keeps the plant looking neat and tidy. It also prevents it from wasting energy on producing seeds at the expense of more flowers.

 

So a little more care and maintenance than a Goldfish but totally worth it!

Alstroemeria as Cut Flowers

Spring is just about springing and we are looking forward to enjoying the joy of Spring soon!

If you have Alstroemeria in your garden right now or perhaps some overwintering snugly in a pot in your greenhouse, all those fresh new shoots are getting ready to jump out the ground as we speak! And once they get going again you can pick, pick, pick away for months and they’ll just keep giving you more and more flowers.

For cut flowers the taller varieties of Alstroemeria go a LONG way. Those with 60cm+ stems have a stately, elegant look that’s just perfect for the vase. If you have some tall varieties in your garden right now such as Alstroemeria 'Friendship', ‘Bauge’ or ‘Lucca’ you can look forward to gathering up some great cut flowers over the next few months.

For Beautiful Cut Flowers

One thing to note is that they won’t be ‘cut’ flowers. Technically speaking, instead of cutting you’ll be doing more picking, plucking or (what feels like) ripping.

You’ll want to get hold of the stem about halfway down and give it a gentle twist followed by a sharp tug which will pull out the stem.

It will feel a bit like you’re hurting your Alstroemeria but never fear! They love it!

This encourages more flowering and makes sure there are no pieces of stem left to rot which can cause fungal disease to build up on the root.

You’ll want to pick them at the point when the buds are not yet open but have colour and looking ready to pop. They will last longer in the vase if picked at this point.

Unlike earlier hybrids, many of the recently bred varieties flower for months, repeat flowering multiple times during the season from March/April to October/November in the UK. Most importantly, the newer cultivars iwll not rampage through your garden. So keep picking, tugging or, indeed, ripping and they’ll keep rooting, growing and shooting up more and more blooms.

By choosing a reliable variety and taking good care of it you can enjoy flowers from the same plant for 20 – 30 years!

Ideally your alstroemeria was planted late last summer for it to be ready for picking this spring. If you planted them around the end of August they will have had the whole of autumn and winter to establish their roots so they can withstand the rigours of the picking action described above.

Putting them in a Vase

  • Remove leaves that will be under the water. This will reduce the bacteria formation in the water which will extend the vase life, but leave some leaves above water as they help the plant to draw the water up
  • Cut about 2cm off the stems at an angle whilst immersed in water as they will then absorb water immediately. Alternatively you can dip the stems in a hydrating solution after trimming and before putting them in the water which will open the cells and lengthen vase life
  • Use flower food in the water and change the water, giving the stems a fresh trim every 2 days
  • Position in a cool place away from direct sunlight and drafts

 

These are a few of our favourite ‘tugged’ flowers (pictured right) blooming from Jun – November, all of which enjoy a sheltered position in part shade or full sun:

Indian Summer

Copper-orange golden yellow with dark, almost black, foliage

Height: 70cm

Etna

Deep red with a yellow throat

Height: 90cm

Evening Song

Burgundy-red with yellow marking and dark streaks

Height: 70cm

Dana

Soft pink with a blush and yellow speckled throat

Height: 70cm

Maze

Pure white

Height: 80cm

Bonanza

Bright pink flowers with flecked, yellow-marked inner petals

Height: 90cm

Friendship

Cream with yellow speckled throat

Height: 60-120cm

Pandora

Lovely deep purple/mauve

Height: 90cm

Alstroemeria in February

Remember those happy alstroemeria dancing in their rainbow colours in the summer breeze only a few months ago?

Now all is a-slumber in your wintery garden. Everything covered in white icy fluff.

You may have last seen your Alstroemeria blooming away up until October which feels like an age ago now. But thanks to the long flowering season you can expect to see some flowers popping up come March/April already, so it's not much longer to wait now.

But perhaps you’re wondering what your alstroemeria are up to while they’re not busy flowering and if there’s anything you need to do to help them along.

Well, with alstroemeria’s being perennials, dying back in winter, they need a period of cold weather in order to stimulate shoot growth, so you can rest assured they are doing their thing underground.

Let’s look at what you can do to support your alstroemeria during this period of hibernation so they can spring exuberantly out the ground when the time is right!

Alstroe in garden beds

Although the alstroemeria varieties we grow are garden winter hardy, withstanding soil temperatures as cold as -10°C, it is a good idea to mulch new plants well for the first couple of winters while they are establishing. This ensures they are protected until they have grown up enough to stand on their own two feet (or many roots).

It is best to apply a thick layer of leafy or peat-free mulch in Autumn. Read about our peat-free policy here. Composted bark is also a good option. Make sure to leave about a 5cm gap between mulch and stem otherwise they may get a bad case of root rot.

Alstroe in containers

Keep your potted alstroemeria indoors after September when the frost could start appearing outdoors.

You can move them to a location that is free of frost for the winter, such as a sheltered porch or greenhouse. This is because the roots are more exposed to low temperatures when in pots than they are growing in the ground.

Amazing how in spite of being seemingly more exposed, being in the garden bed is actually warmer. Just shows – nature knows best!

Alstroemeria have tuberous, fleshy roots so they require sheltering and good drainage. This will prevent the compost getting too soggy with the winter rains which can also cause the dreaded root rot.

Water lightly but frequently.  The compost should dry out on the surface between watering.

When Spring springs

If you take good care of your alstroemeria in these ways, when the days start lengthening those shoots will start flowering prolifically.

They are quite hungry plants, especially if kept in a container, so remember to feed with a high potash, liquid feed regularly in the growing season. We also use a slow release feed - our Alstroemeria Spring Feed - which can be applied at the beginning of the growing season (March) to give a steady feed throughout the early part of the growing season.

Once flowering begins, mature hybrids will keep producing flowering shoots until the soil temperature rises above 15°C for extended periods.

What varieties do you have in your garden that you’re looking forward to seeing in flower again?

Alstroemeria – An Introduction

These lovelies just epitomise joy, don’t you think?

They most definitely are the party animals of the garden with their happy faces dressed up in a roar of delightful hues from white, yellow, orange and bronze, to pink, red and purple as well as bi-coloured. They just love blooming, jiving about with their flowers throughout the whole of spring and summer. From May to September!

Despite their lily-like appearance and being known as Peruvian Lily and Lily of the Incas, alstroemeria are not true lilies. They belong to the Alstroemeriaceae family and grow wild in South America under extremely varied conditions - from high up in the snow-capped Andes down into the damp forests and dry deserts along the coast. Some have become naturalised in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands.

First grown in Peru, Brazil and Chile, they were named after Baron Clas Alströmer who collected these seeds from Spain and brought them over to Europe.  Alströmer was a Swedish naturalist and student of the distinguished botanist and classifier Carl Linnaeus. From 1760 to 1764 he traveled throughout Southern Europe, collecting plants for Linnaeus. According to The Linnean Society of London, Alströmer sent a box with a list of plants numbered 1 to 243 from Spain on 6 September 1760.

An interesting and unusual characteristic of Alstroemeria’s leaves is “resupination”. This originates from the Latin word “resupinus” which means "bent back with the face upward". So their leaves twist 180 degrees from the base as they unfurl and what we see as the upper leaf surface is in fact the lower surface.

Alstroemeria is a genus of around 60 species of herbaceous perennials and modern hybrids originating primarily from the Aurea, Ligtu, Pelegrina, Pulchra and Violacea species.

There are more than 200 hybrids and cultivars of Alstroemeria available, some popular varieties being “Apollo”, “Friendship” and “Inticancha ‘Dark Purple’”.

The first new varieties were bred by plant breeder John Goemans, becoming known as 'the father of alstroemeria’. He was the first in the world to grow Alstroemeria commercially under glass, introducing the first Alstroemeria variety specifically intended for glasshouse growing in 1959. He had a whole collection by the mid 1960's leading to Alstroemeria becoming one of the major glasshouse grown cut flower crops in the world today. John Goeman's company 'Parigo' was taken over by Alec White of Primrose Hall Peonies in 2018, where the growing and breeding continues.

They are a popular choice because of their comparatively long vase-life (up to 2 weeks) and have a long, prolific flowering season.

You’d be forgiven for mistaking Alstroemerias for orchids as they can be divided into two main classifications: orchid-type and butterfly-type. This describes their flowering habits.

The orchid-type is mostly used for cut flowers. They have 3-5 months of major flower production in the spring, with little or no flowering during the rest of the year.

The butterfly-type are more suited as potted plants. They will flower for 9-12 months each year, depending on the cultivar and environmental conditions. Butterfly types have shorter growth habits and larger, more open flowers than the orchid-type.

The varieties we sell include the original British bred Parigo, the Colorita (Princess), Inca and Planet series as well as the Inticancha collection. We’ve sorted them into Short, Medium and Tall varieties as well as the types that are best as cut flowers or containers, so you’ll know exactly what to look for depending on your needs.

The short varieties are great at the front of the border and make excellent container or patio grown plants which, if pruned correctly, can flower in the garden from June to November. Medium and tall varieties are excellent flowering plants for garden borders or allotments and will repeat flower from May to November. Tall varieties also make excellent cut flowers.

Which Alstroemeria is your favourite?