June Plant of the Month: foxtail lily

Rockets are blasting off in the garden borders: Eremurus robustus is in full spate

Eremurus robustusAs we enter into the month of June, summer is upon us and the sense of enthusiasm in the garden is palpable. Foliage and leaves are fresh, lush and undamaged and a huge variety of plants are making the most of the longer, brighter daylight hours and are beginning to burst into flower. We are entering the season that delivers what we all garden for; colour.

One of the most striking flowering plants at Hyde Hall in June is Eremurus robustus AGM, otherwise known as the foxtail lily. They are in the same plant family as other popular garden perennials such as Kniphofia and Asphodeline. A characteristic they share with these plants is the wide, strap-shaped leaves that emerge from the ground in the spring as the plant begins to grow.


What lurks beneath

Foxtail lilies can be purchased bare-root in the dormant season; the single, pointed growth bud at the centre of long, twisted, spider-like roots always remind me of the machines that invade planet Earth in the War of the Worlds movie! They need free draining conditions and are often planted on a mound of sand or grit before being covered over but they seem to cope just fine on our heavy Essex clay, even managing to seed around and spread across the garden each year. 

By late May the flower spike is beginning to emerge, which can eventually reach a height of 3.6m (12ft) if you are really lucky. The flowers, which are star-shaped, white with a subtle soft-pink tinge and yellow centres open in early June, opening progressively up the stem giving a long flowering period. Being tall with huge flowering stems and very little foliage make these plants extremely striking and versatile in the border. The pale colour also makes them incredibly easy to incorporate in any colour scheme.

Most of the Eremurus at Hyde Hall can be found on the Shrub Rose Border, bursting up through and above the shrub roses that flower at the same time, but they have also migrated across onto the Viburnum Bed, growing happily in full sun among perennials such as heuchera, sedums and aquilegias.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.