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Dietes bicolor (variously known as African iris or fortnight lily) is a clump-forming rhizomatous perennial plant with long sword-like pale-green leaves, growing from multiple fans at the base of the clump. This species belongs to the Iridaceae (Iris) family. It can form large clumps if left undisturbed for years.
Gardeners in northern Europe have been growing dietes since the mid-19th century, but they are not the easiest of plants. Like many from South Africa they're not hardy everywhere in Britain.
On the clement coast of south-west Scotland or the milder areas of southern England you can grow them in the garden without having to nurse them through the winter. Although dietes prefer a rich, moist soil, they will adapt to dry, impoverished ground if necessary. In the wild, most species grow in partial shade, so they do well under trees and shrubs.
Those of us with gardens in less gentle climates have to grow our dietes in containers. They spread quickly, so choose a large pot and fill it with a loam-based compost that has plenty of grit in it. Keep the compost moist from spring onwards but stop watering in autumn. Store the pot in a frost-free place over winter (mine are kept under in an unheated greenhouse) and water only occasionally.
Pretty Wild Seeds are registered with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) under number 7529, so you can have confidence in both our products and advice. Although our products are listed in weights and acres, we can supply in additional quantities upon enquiry so if you need a larger supply, please don't hesitate to give us a call.
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The Dietes Bicolor 'African Iris' Seeds is shown in Rare & Exotic Seeds.
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Propagation; To propagate, cut apart the rhizomes, as you would a bearded iris, after it has finished flowering. Plant up the new pieces in pots, where they will look unhappy for a few months but should flower the following year.
Companions; If you're growing your dietes in pots, leave space around them so you can appreciate their shape without the clutter of other plants. Because of their tolerance of shade they're useful for growing under spring-flowering deciduous shrubs that are dull-looking at this time of year.
The most effective planting I have seen was in a favoured spot of south-west Scotland. Several clumps of D. grandiflora were backed by drifts of the white-flowered angel's fishing rod, Dierama pulcherrimum var album. The stems of the dieramas arched over the dietes, the flowers of each plant occasionally meeting in a kiss.