Jewels of the bush

Not long after we moved to East London, I found myself wending my car along a dusty farm track. I was searching for a nursery I’d heard about, one with a great variety of bromeliads, indigenous bulbs and clivia.

Jewel-like clivia flowers in my garden

Suddenly, it was upon me. Two excited and very large dogs herded me to rows of shade cloth-protected tables, groaning under the weight of plants. There, I met a woman called Stella. These plants, all of them, were so clearly her babies.

Stella noticed my awe of her clivias – the adults with their jewel-like flowers and the vast trays of infant plants. So she reached for a clivia’s fat red berry and began gently rubbing away at its skin. 

Slowly, one pearl-like seed emerged, and another and another. “This is how you do it,” she told me, and then handed the seeds to me.

Stella’s seeds and their grandchildren

Stella’s farm nursery, sadly, is closed these days. But since our encounter, I’ve never bought another clivia plant. I’ve grown all of mine from seed, and I’m sure some are the grandchildren of those that came from Stella. And now, in springtime, I can’t keep my hands (or eyes) off my clivias, also known as “bush lilies”. It’s definitely the time for making babies.

Clivia gardenii

Fresh from my foray into seed germination, I see the fruit hanging off the clivia among this spring’s flowers. Thankfully, I don’t battle with growing clivias from seed as I do with other plants (perhaps because these seeds are so big?).

Seeds newly harvested and laid on a sandy medium
A couple of years later, almost ready for planting out

Anyway, the berries I’m looking at now have formed from last year’s flowers, and they are ripe and juicy. I pick a bucketful of them, and they look good enough to eat. You shouldn’t though. They would make you ill. 

Wild abandon

I grow Clivia miniata, Clivia gardenii and even the lesser-known Clivia nobilis. C miniata is more popular in the garden because it is supposedly the most spectacular of the six known varieties, most of which grow wild in the Eastern Cape. But I do like C gardenii and C nobilis, whose flowers droop like pretty pendants. I find that they are less bothered by the horrible amaryllis worm.

What I should do is separate the seeds of the two varieties so that they can be correctly labelled. I don’t do that, but then I don’t mind the varieties getting mixed up some kind of wild abandon in the garden. Next time.

Labour of love

I find a comfy spot to relax, and I begin opening the fleshy fruit and releasing the seeds from the membranes that keep them together and prevent water from penetrating the seeds (this could cause rot and fungus). It is a labour of love: it has to be because it can’t be rushed. At this point, some people will wash the seeds in a bleach or peroxide solution to prevent any possible fungus infection. I never have; I don’t think Stella did.

Then I lay the pearly seeds onto a bed of quite sandy soil, pushing them down just a little, not to bury them, but more to secure them in the soil. And I will water them regularly.

From experience, I know that it will take a month or two for germination to start. And it is delightful: each seed sends out a tentative green shoot, which then twists itself into the soil. It will take a year or two before they get big enough to plant out into the garden. And it will take three to four years before we start seeing flowers.

The wait pales into nothing when you’re rewarded with your very own homegrown clivias. I promise.

The flowers offer a vast array of colours




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