PLANT OF THE WEEK #42: Dierama pulcherrimum

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?

Discussion

  1. I’ve had a couple of clumps of the hot pink ones for years but they never flowered well unless I actually watered them. So this year they are at their absolute best of course! I just noticed the other day how they begin to flower at their tips and then reverse back down the stem. I was debating cutting off the finished tips/ends, but then you’d lose the arching feature so I’ll just let them do their thing.

    1. Makes me wonder how much watering they’d require – if just a couple of deep waterings might be enough to ensure decent flowering the next spring. So wish this kind of thing was studied/known! And yeah, deadheading’s not really an option, is it. It’s all about the arc

  2. I have the dark pink, pale pink and the white form. I love them, they are also very hardy and look beautiful in a vase.

    1. golly. I’d never thought of picking them.

  3. My Dierama ” Raven ” hovers alluringly above Euphorbia shillingii. both doing exceptionally well this wet spring .

    1. How tall is the euphorbia?

  4. My (very modest) flowering clump of the white Dierama stopped me in my tracks last week bending simply and elegantly out between two big lumps of granite rock. The delicacy of the Dierama against the mass of the rock was a beautiful sight. Sadly, my ancient iphone camera just couldn’t capture the magic of the moment.

    1. Oh yeah, that’d be the perfect setting. And it’s not just your iPhone camera that’s inadequate. I’ve found them nearly impossible to capture, whether on iPhone or DSLR.

  5. I fell for Dierama many years ago when I was in Tasmania on holiday. I had never seen the plant before and was mesmerised by the beautiful arching habit and in this case mid-pink flowers. I tried it in my garden and was very patient with it; however, I never got it right. I actually did move it a couple of times to try and find a spot where it could really show off. It sulked of course with the moving for a while and I never quite found a spot where the other plants complemented it , so I actually, (to my chagrin) gave up! I think you are right Mchael – it is important to see most of the plant. I also think that the habit of companion plants is important – particularly favouring plants that also have a soft, weeping/curving, pendulous growth. I love the idea of the Dierama and Stipa gigantea.

    1. Frankly, I just don’t think they do well with competition from other plants around them, Jacquie. I think I love them most of all in the paving at the back of Dixter – up on that terrace we got to see. I have them here rising above a ‘carpet’ of plants no higher than your knee, and they’re invariably good. I thought it’d also be fun to try them just peering over and floating above clipped evergreens to 1.5m-ish, leaving gaps between them for the Dierama. They’ve really struggled. I think you should try again – right out in the open, amongst lower things in amongst paving stones.

  6. I am lucky to have approximately 30 flower “fishing rods” on my fuschia coloured Dierama. Just love it. Very hardy but gets a reasonable amount of water where it is situated above a 1metre retaining wall. Very sunny aspect.

    1. Great info, thanks. Clearly like so many other plants, they ‘cope’ with the dry, but ‘cope’ is all they do. They really want a bit of moisture to perform well

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