Dierama

Beautiful but underused, this tall and elegant plant can persist for years, says Miranda Kimberley.

D. ‘Blackberry Bells’ - image: Plant World Seeds
D. ‘Blackberry Bells’ - image: Plant World Seeds
Dierama is a beautiful and perhaps underused plant. Its common name Wand Flower perfectly describes its tall, arching nature, with the crepey flowers hanging by pedicels so slender they are almost invisible. They can be slow to establish but once they become established they persist for years. One of our experts has a 30-year old clump which is still thriving.

It is a genus of cormous perennials, within the Iris family. The corms have a distinctive fibrous tunic and renew themselves annually. There are around 44 species with a centre of diversity in South Africa, with many found on the Cape. They are reliably hardy in the UK, coping down to -5 or -10°C. This is because they are generally found on grasslands at high altitudes.

The most common species in cultivation are Dierama pulcherrimum and D. pendulum. Both have very tall stems and like moist soil. D. pulcherrimum has narrow bell-shaped flowers which vary from magenta pink to deep red-purple to white. The flowers of D. pendulum have wider bells, and are usually purple-pink.

There are actually many more species which can be grown in cultivation, though some are rarely seen. They offer a range of heights. The smaller species include the dwarf D. pauciflorum; D. dracomontanum with its large coral pink flowers and the tomato-red flowered D. igneum. There are also some stunning dark coloured forms – particularly the wine-red flowered D. reynoldsii and D. ‘Cosmos’, which has burgundy, almost black flowers.

Grow Dierama in a sunny site in a fertile, moist but well-drained soil which doesn’t dry out in summer or become waterlogged in winter. The corms are best planted in spring, 5-7.5cm deep. Containerised plants should be planted so that the top of the compost is level with the surrounding soil. They can be grown in containers for a short while but their deep roots mean that they do better in the ground.

After planting water freely during the growing season, avoid excessive winter wet. Cut away old foliage in early spring and if necessary lift and divide congested colonies at the same time. Also in spring, apply a general purpose fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone.

Over time the corms develop year by year into chains, like Crocosmia, and they have fleshy brittle roots. As a result, they do not like being moved and any divisions take several years to start flowering freely again so ideally choose your spot wisely in the garden and do not disturb them. After some years you will have developed a stand of Dierama to be proud of.

They look beautiful hanging over a path or water, brushing head height, and look good in borders, gravel gardens and grown alongside ornamental grasses. Seed can be collected in autumn or spring. Be aware that they can be promiscuous, pollinating easily with other species and varieties, so there may be quite a variation with the parent plant.

Blood Drops’ - image: Plant World Seeds

What the Specialists Say

Ray Brown, owner, Plant World Seeds, Devon

"We love Dieramas here at Plant World – we sell nearly 30 varieties here and have developed new forms. I personally think that Dieramas are vastly underrated with a host of fine qualities.

"The plants are very hardy and once established virtually last forever – we’ve clumps here that
are nearly 30 years old. If you’re lucky you can get them from seed to flowering in 15 months for a single plant, and within about 3-4 years your dieramas will start to form clumps. They spread slowly and do not like moving so make sure you’re happy where you plant them out.

"As regards favourite varieties, I would probably choose Dierama ‘Spring Dancer’ as an early flowering type, D. ‘Blackberry Bells’ as a mid-season flowering variety and the species D. erectum for the end
of summer."

Aubrey Barker, owner, Hopleys Plants, Hertfordshire

"We wholeheartedly promote the growing of Dierama as their pendulous habit, good colour range, movement in wind and self-seeding habit all contribute to worthwhile garden plants. We find that they do not overwinter well outside in pots as the brittle roots are damaged by frost, so we keep our young plants under cover over winter and keep them on the dry side. 

"Once planted out (we find they do best in the ground) they do not like to dry out in summer, nor become waterlogged in winter.

"It takes several years for them to flower well from seed or divisions so they do not sell well as young plants unless one has specimen plants to view. Of the species we have grown D. argyreum, dracomontanum, igneum, mossii, pulcherrimum, reynoldsii and trichorhizum are all worth growing.  Of the cultivars we would recommend ‘Blackbird’, ‘Guinevere’ and ‘Miranda’."

D. erectum - image: Plant World Seeds

In Practice

Dan Leighton, garden designer and plantsman, Dan Leighton Gardens, Devon

"I have a client with a stunning collection of them in his garden. He finds they are best grown as free-standing plants, with nothing, or low-growing plants around them, so as not to interfere with the flowers.
I have the painstaking task of removing the dead foliage in late spring, it has to be done with a pair of scissors as pulling or ripping brings out the growing points, roots and all. In their native South Africa this job is done by wild fires. He won’t let me burn his plants, but I reckon it’s worth a try.

"D. pulcherrimum ‘Blackbird’ is a good dark form but it’s important to get it from a reputable supplier. Seed raised plants sold as this are often not as dark as they should be. Dracomontanum is an unusual species with more orangey red flowers, and is lower growing so easier to accommodate in a small garden. They are all are very easy to grow from seed and cross pollinate and seed around readily in gravelly areas of the garden, edge of driveways etc."

Species and varieties

  • D. ambiguum is a newly introduced, medium-sized hardy species from South Africa. The rich pink, hanging, bell-shaped, flowers are carried in mid- to late summer on wiry, arching stems. 
  • Height: 80cm.
  • D. argyreum is a rare, smallish species from the African mountains displaying ivory white, pendulous flowers which, uniquely, open from pale sulphur yellow buds; a new colour-break in this genus. This choice plant will grow best in well-drained rich soil in a sheltered spot. Height: 90cm.
  • D. ‘Guinevere’ is a clump-forming perennial with long narrow leaves. In summer it produces arching stems with nodding, cool-white flowers with a slight pink-purple tinge. Height: 1m.
  • D. pulcherrimum, or the Angel’s Fishing Rod, is a graceful, evergreen perennial with tall, arching stems bearing nodding, bell-shaped, rosy-purple (occasionally pale pink or white) flowers in summer. The flowers hang on thin pedicels. Height: 1.5m.
  • D. pulcherrimum var. album is the elegant, white flowered form.
  • D. pulcherrimum ‘Blackbird’ is an evergreen perennial with tall, strap-shaped leaves and large, deep red-purple, bell-shaped flowers carried in sprays on fine, arching stems. Height: 1-1.3m.
  • D. pendulum has arching flower stems bearing drooping panicles of flaring, bell-shaped pink flowers with papery brown bracts. A less substantial plant than D. pulcherrimum. Height 50cm-1m.
  • D. pauciflorum is a hardy, dwarf species which produces dense clumps of short, stubby stems and bears reddish-pink flower bells which look out or upwards, instead of being pendulous. They bloom in spring. Height: 30-40cm.
  • D. dracomontanum makes compact clumps of grassy foliage, above which are borne disproportionately large rose-pink or coral-pink trumpet flowers on densely-packed delicate arching stems in summer. Height: 60cm.
  • D. ‘Blackberry Bells’ is a vigorous hybrid which was bred by Plant World Seeds, between ‘Cosmos’ and D. robustum, inheriting some of the darkness from the former flower, but with much larger, deep purple-maroon flared trumpets on very tall, strong springy stems. It comes almost 100 per cent true from seed. Height: 1-1.3m.
  • D. igneum is a hardy species that has a compact habit and is quick to clump up. Produces tomato-red flared flowers in summer. Height: 30-80cm.
  • D. ‘Autumn Sparkler’ (syn.D. erectum) is the last of the Dierama to flower into October and November, and the most unusual. It has upright stiff stems and open lilac-pink flowers . It has unusually marked ‘eyes’ at the petal bases. Height: 1 to 1.3m.
  • D. ‘Spring Dancer’ is the earliest of the Dierama to flower, in April and May. Flared pink trumpets are borne on thin stems, which are out-facing rather than pendulous. Height: 90cm-1.2m. n

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