Seven years. Gardeners are a patient lot, they have to be. Many plants work on the timescale of years; a year to germinate, a few years to move on from seedling stage, a few more years to mature and then finally flower. It ranges from annuals, which grow, flower and die in a single season, to something like Wisteria, which will have you waiting for up to twenty years for flowers (if it was started from seed). For the plants that I’ve grown from seed, most have taken two years to flower, which is typical of standard herbaceous perennials. Some plants – such as irises and agapanthus – have taken a couple of years more as they need longer to germinate and establish.
The current record of waiting for a plant to flower is about to be handed to the Strelitzia, or the Bird of Paradise plant (also known as the Crane flower). Strelizia is a tropical plant with highly unusual flowers that look like the beak and decorative plumage of an exotic bird, it really is quite breath-taking. Now, after seven years of growing, it is finally on the verge of flowering. The very first “boat” is gradually tipping over to horizontal and colouring, ready to open in couple of weeks. I will finally be able to see this flower in person, in our own home as opposed to in books, the internet or on holiday.
This lone plant of Strelitzia Reginae is all that’s left from a pack of fifteen seeds, only this one germinated, survived and subsequently grew. Over the course of its lifetime it’s been indoors and outdoors, sheltered and exposed, potted on several times, mulched, watered, fed, sunned, shaded, pampered, neglected and had all manner of prayers, sacrifices, curses and fertilizer thrown at it. From the single seed that germinated seven years ago we now have a substantial plant – or I should say plants as this Strelitzia has divided several times, it’s hard to count how many we now have, I’d say about five and a half as it’s also in the middle of dividing as well as flowering. In another year or two it might be fairer to call it a “stand” of Strelitzia.
Strelitzia normally takes four to five years to flower, which still a long time to wait. For some reason, ours had decided to repeatedly divide instead of remaining as a single plant. The bad news was that as the plant put its energy into dividing, it didn’t flower, the good news is that each division will grow away separately and each one can flower, which is the reason why after waiting seven years for a single flower from this plant, four have come along at once; that’s a better track record than busses.
The three tips are the other flower stems
I can’t remember the first time I saw Strelitzia nor whether it was in a book or on holiday, but I became besotted with it. The stunning bird-mimicking flower was like no other I’d ever seen and I had to have it. It’s the reason why I still have this plant, seven years later. I’m not sure I would have had the patience for a plant I didn’t care as much for. There were many times where we nearly lost it (such as when it got blasted by icy wind that turned a whole side black that took two years to recover) and other times where I came close to throwing it out as a lost cause, not worth the hassle of keeping it around, year after year. It had a sickly upbringing, with mottled brown patches and die-back developing on leaves that it is only now managing to out-grow.
I’m so eager to see the first flower open, it’s been seven years in the making but these recent weeks of watching the prepare to open feels like the longest part of the wait.