Once you’ve seen Dierama pulcherrimum, the so-called ‘fairy’s fishing rod’, you never forget it. And it’s not like anything else at all. It’s unique in the plant world.
No other plant expresses superb natural engineering with such poise and grace. Impossibly fine stems form a perfect parabolic arc when weighed down by the bell shaped flowers, spread along their length. It’s all in such a fine balance that a breeze sets the dangling flowers dancing, and a wind causes them to whip around wildly, such that breakage seems like the only plausible outcome. But then the wind dies, and flowers return effortlessly to their position along an elegant arc.
Its design and dimensions call for appropriate placement. So many plants want their bare legs covered at flowering time. Dierama pulcherrimum is the opposite. It’s best when you see it right from the ground up, so you can fully appreciate the perfection of its arc. At the very least, half of the plant needs to sit clear of surrounding foliage.
It has always been considered to be the perfect pond-side plant. Maybe it’s in that position that we see it best, full length, or that its elegance is further amplified by reflection. Or maybe that’s simply where the visual reference to a fairy’s fishing rod makes most sense. And maybe, then, it’s just a short and subconscious leap to assuming that it’s water-demanding. I’m not sure. But the assumption is firmly implanted in my head, so I’m always surprised and delighted when it performs in relatively dry spots. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I planted the magical pure white form in my never-watered steppe, but so far it’s been well worthwhile. Admittedly it’s flowering better this year than ever before, at the end of nearly twelve months of consistent rainfall, but even when it’s not at it’s best, it more than pays its way.
Right now the pink form, elsewhere in the garden, is hovering above giant catmint. It sounds like a perfectly obvious colour combination, but so far it grabs me, every time I walk by. And the white form is flowering, the apex of its arc at about 1.8m, amongst the copper and straw colours of the identically scaled and similarly vase-shaped Stipa gigantea, and over a shin-deep carpet of purple Verbena rigida, navy Triteleia laxa and lime Euphorbia ‘Copton Ash’. I also have the bizarrely blue form ‘Blue Belle’, but it’s never flowered, nor thrived, in the same conditions as the pink and white forms.
I’ve mostly grown mine from seed, as it’s easy, and I had it in my head that it sulks if lifted and divided. But designer Julian Ronchi dug some for me in a garden of his at what I imagined to be the exact wrong time of year (when they were already in heavy growth in spring), and though they immediately browned off down to the ground, and I considered them thoroughly dead, they quickly shot in strong recovery, and flowered, at least a little, the following season.
Dierama pulcherrimum is one of those plants that, no matter how long you stand and stare in admiration, you feel like you still haven’t quite done it justice when it’s time to move on. There’s a mystery and magic about its perfection and elegance that, no matter how long you’ve grown it for, never fade.
I’d love to hear of your experiences with Dierama. How dry do you reckon we can get away with keeping it? And what do grow it with?