Kaffir lilies - the lazy gardener's delight
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Kaffir lilies - the lazy gardener's delight

FOLLOWING on from the rudbeckias, aconitum, asters, fuchsias, and nerines, the Kaffir lily now dances centre stage.

Do not despise the ordinariness of this winter-flowering wonder with the tongue-twisting botanical name Schizostylis coccineum.

This winter plant is full of surprises which lazy-minded gardeners will certainly enjoy.

Though not related to the true bulbous forms of lily, the Kaffir willingly boasts shallow, cup-like flowers just like those of a small gladiolus.

Native to South Africa, they flower during November and later provided they have a sheltered position at the front of a border, at the base of a warm sunny wall, or in a courtyard.


Major has eye-catching, bright red flowers that appear from late autumn, and upward-growing sword-shaped leaves.

What is not generally known is that this variety (and the more widely grown but rather straggly Sunrise) make excellent cut flowers.

For this reason, I like to grow a few in pots in the greenhouse where they flower for long periods through the winter.

I see it as I write, bravely flowering with a freshness which reminds me of spring, in the teeth of yet another early winter gale.

Wouldn't mind if it was growing in a choice spot, but it proudly stands near to a cold and somewhat shaded wall facing into the east light with a determination that equals the wind that comes blowing hard from that quarter.

Kaffir lilies make extraordinarily large clumps in quite a short time, without as much by your leave.

It seems to bulk up in just a year or two and by year three, it will need lifting, division and replanting otherwise flowering will taper off.


One plant bought now will make four in under three years.

As outlined, the plant does make a few demands; a nourishing soil, and whatever sun is going especially during the bleary days of early winter.

In shade it can disappoint somewhat running to leaf easily and producing long, grass-like foliage which persists through the entire winter.

Kaffir lilies partner with many others during early winter but look particularly good when grown in the company of purple and bronze foliage, most often encountered on the better forms of Heuchera (now available at many garden outlets).

These heucheras I have covered in the past but repeating the fact that can withstand the most severe frosts is certainly worth repeating.

In the teeth of climate change these may very well be more valued than ever for their ability to survive.