In warm temperate to subtropical areas, agapanthus have been the gardener’s friend for decades. Cheap to buy and easy to propagate, drought tolerant, low maintenance and reliably flowering through November and December, agapanthus can be found in most suburban gardens through east coast Australia. But I’ve just removed the last of mine as this previous stalwart is now an ugly liability. What happened?
First, of course, agapanthus has a weed potential in cooler climates, such as the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and inland areas. Although there are newer varieties that are said to be sterile, like ‘Black Pantha’, I’ve not had much success growing these in my Sydney garden. Unlike the species, they do not seem to be particularly vigorous.
But for me, the sad fate of agapanthus doesn’t lie with its weedy tale but a two-pronged attack that makes it a garden liability.
First, there is the persistent mealy bug attack that turns its leaves into twisted, deformed ribbons instead of the strong, strap-like shape they should be. My agapanthus over the past few years have shrunk from being lovely large clumps of architectural strap leaves into pathetic, pale echoes of their former glory. The leaves are short, narrow, thin and with wavy edges, exposing the white leaf base and the many shrivelled old leaves which used to be hidden by the newer foliage.
To add insult to this permanent injury, the perpetual debilitation sends the agapanthus leaves, once seemingly bullet proof on even the hottest days, into melt down. I’m assuming that the constant sap-sucking of the mealy bugs compromises that ability of the leaves to translocate sufficient moisture to protect them in heat waves.
The consequences, which you’ll see all over Sydney, are acres of burned agapanthus, shrivelled and white from a few over 40 degree days this past summer. Our once reliable, clumping ground cover is gone forever.
Sad, but no doubt partly our own fault from planting so many monocultures of this, and other, plants. I remember being warned during my landscape design course about the dangers of planting monocultures – that they would be like a huge ‘EAT AT JOE’S’ signpost for any voracious beastie or disease, allowing it to proliferate to obscene, devastating numbers, eventually becoming a permanent and impossible to control pest.
Did we listen? No. Has it happened? Yes. Will something else like this happen to another favourite plant? It already has – next instalment – the demise of the lilly pilly hedge.