In praise of Dianella and Libertia…

Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’, Oloron Sainte Marie, August 2020

Dianella and Libertia sound a bit like obscure Greek deities as celebrated in a very long poem by Alexander Pope in the 18th century. They are actually part of a wonderful group of strappy, elegant, evergreen plants that are vital to the feel of the garden in the Spring particularly, but which I constantly overlook simply because they are such stalwarts. They deserve several odes to their qualities, but I am not an ode maker, and so this post will be my celebration of them.

They are such stalwarts that all of them got left behind in the move to Oloron nearly 3 years ago. Fortunately, Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’ had inserted itself into pots single-handedly, but the Dianella had to be rebought, and then, all of a sudden, some seedlings appeared self-managed in pots. I couldn’t believe my luck. Just shows you- sometimes the overlooked can sort themselves out.

Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’ was originally bought as three small plants easily twelve years ago. Forming a tuft of upright, slender leaves, this plant is a 365 days of the year hero. It takes anything that weather and sun chuck at it, and once it is happy with you, there will be sprays of small flowers later in Spring, but honestly, that is a cherry on the cake. The foliage darkens to a bronze-gold colour in the winter, and backlit by sun, it is magnificent. It will make more tufts and spread gently, and will happily poke through any other plant to accompany it. I haven’t tried to grow it from seed, but would have if I hadn’t rediscovered it. A brilliant plant.

Libertia ixioides Goldfinger, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2023

The Dianellas are just as tough and useful in all sorts of ways, in pots, in drifts, weaving in among other plants, you name it. UK sites often say that these are tender, but that is not my experience. I agree that they would not fancy waterlogged ground, but I have grown them in poor soil in full sun with very little irrigation, in shady and semi-shady spots in better soil and no irrigation, and it seems to me that they always bounce back from the cold and the sun.

‘Cassa Blue’ will get to 0.5m tall, maybe a little more, has a glaucous blue tinge to the green leaves, and will clump up vigorously. It has never flowered for me, but that’s no loss as the plant itself is so good. In Tostat, I grew it threading through small grasses and it makes a great linking plant bringing a planting together. Here in Oloron, I have small groups of it on the ‘garrigue’ slope, and in very hard conditions. This means that the plant is taking more time to establish but this year, I think it will have cracked it.

Dianella revoluta ‘Little Rev’, Barn Garden, Oloron Sainte Marie, March 2023

Dianella revoluta ‘Little Rev’ is growing really well in the shade and semi-shade of the Barn Garden, and I am already dividing clumps and threading the new plants through the roses and other shrubs. Above you can see it lining the rough path to the new Loropetalum ‘Fire Dance’ in the blue pot. Dividing it couldn’t be easier. Each clump consists of many smaller plants that are growing together. The rootballs are compact and strong but can be gently pulled apart to make ready-made starter plants of whatever size you want, and will quickly root back into a new position. ‘Little Rev’ is shorter than ‘Cassa Blue’ and is a strong green.

Aristea ecklonii, Courtyard, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

Not related other than thematically is another Spring favourite, Aristea ecklonii. Again, this is an older photograph, but two years later, I now have 2 tall zinc vase-shaped tubs and will need to divide up and repot them in the autumn to make 2 more. I grew this from seed originally about eight years ago, and though it is evergreen in our protected courtyard against a wall and with half a days sun to warm it, it’s real hightime is the late Spring, when the plants almost sit up in the pot and then fire the elegant flowersprays out for the world to see. The tall pots really show it off the best and I raise them up balancing them on the wide ledge of the stone trough where the gingers are still sleeping. By the time the gingers get going, the Aristeas will be happy to sit down and regroup. It is easy from seed, just needing the patience to wait as you do for perennial seed.

Almost oriental in the their elegance, the flowers of Aristea ecklonii, Oloron Sainte Marie, May 2021

This will do instead of an ode I think.

One thought on “In praise of Dianella and Libertia…

  1. The problem with our unidentified Dianella revoluta is that it performs too well. I feel obligated to use all the scraps elsewhere in the landscapes. I must start giving them to neighbors or just discarding them.


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