Saturday, 22 June 2013


High Drama
Alstroemeria hybrid

I was reminded of this story when we were talking to two theatrical friends a couple of nights ago: for some reason my wife and I had been given tickets for a production of Romanoff and Juliet which the Manchester University Drama Society were putting on. The tickets were pretty impressive - gold edged and actually bearing our names - but my memory is hazy as to how they came about. It must have been some sort of mistake, because I can remember no connection to the university at that time. However, they were free, so we were up for it and, as it was the university, we dressed in the style of students - wife in hippy style long dress and prominent C.N.D badge (it was the early seventies) and me in denim bomber jacket and jeans adorned with the oily stains and holes which were the fashion at the time. Not a lot changes.

When we entered the theatre, it was to be greeted by a bloke in dress suit who took our tickets, then bawled 'Mr and Mrs Steedman' to the waiting dignitaries, all similarly clad in evening dress and lined up to welcome the guests in the foyer. I held on tight to my wife's hand, because I could sense she was ready to do a runner, and we walked to our allotted seats in as dignified a manner as possible. We then took our place in the theatre, surrounded by an evening dress- clad audience. This was obviously going to be a performance to remember.

It was. We sat for an hour while an out-of tune orchestra deafened us from their strange situation at the side of the audience as we became educated in the art of gross over-acting. Then a moment of high drama came about and we began to enjoy ourselves: one of the characters, it may have been Romanoff, had strutted all over the stage for about five minutes, waving a pistol around and raving about how he was going to make his point with it. There was a short silence at the end of these ravings, during which an old lady apparently woke up.

"Oo, Ethel, e's got a gun!", she informed Ethel in a loud voice, presumably on the assumption that Ethel's hearing aid was turned off. The comment was audible to anyone in a three mile radius, including the gunman who turned away from the audience, feigning deep, meaningful thoughts which caused his shoulders to shake.

Soon after this, Romanoff stormed off through a door at the back of the stage, due to some development on the plot. He turned to make some parting comment, then disappeared through the door. There was something strange and unplanned about this departure however, because just before the door fully closed, Romanoff suddenly descended vertically and there was an accompanying crash. It seemed likely that someone had forgotten to put the steps at the other side of the door. This theory was strengthened a few minutes later when the heroin said 'hark - I hear Romanoff returning'. We all looked dutifully to the side of the stage she had indicated but nothing happened .

"Er, well I thought I heard him returning", she followed up with, to the huge enjoyment of the audience. She had obviously been mistaken because Romanoff still didn't appear. This led to an aimless wander about the stage as she hummed nervously and examined props intently as though they played a crucial part in the plot. This little sortie culminated with an almost pleading "surely I hear Romanoff returning now", which brought a guffaw from the audience and, at last, a response from Romanoff. He staggered on a changed man. Gone was the gay blade who had made a vertical departure from the stage, to be replaced by a limping wreck.

All of which leads me to say that it is the cock-ups that make amateur dramatics so entertaining to me and I think that most audiences share this perverse delight.
Early low growing flush of Alstroemeria flowers

Later, taller, flowers (far end of garden)

And when it comes to high drama in the garden, Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily) takes some beating. Closely related to lilies, they originated in grassland and mountain screes in South America and are named after a Swedish baron, Clas Alstromer, who collected many seeds on a trip to South Africa in the 18th century. They make excellent cut flowers and last in pristine condition for a few weeks. I find I they yield two flushes of flowers, the first being short stemmed while the later ones are produced on much longer growths. Removal of finished flowers is easy - simply pull them out and they slip easily from the base.

There's a bit of mythology about them not being hardy and this may have been true in the early days but some modern hybrids will tolerate down to minus 12degC ('Which' trials in Glasgow even recorded them surviving  at minus 15deg.C) However it is best to play safe and cover with a couple of inches of mulch in winter. Slugs are their main enemy.

Nectaroscordum siculum

A careful look will show show a rather unusual flower peeping above the Alstroemerias in the first picture. This is  bulbous plant related to the onion (crush a leaf and you get the message). It spreads freely and is much loved by flower arrangers because of the way the pendulous blooms, after pollination, form seed pods which stand stiffly upright. Like Amaryllis, the flowers are displayed on long stalks unadorned by leaves, so they are best seen rising above other plants which preserve dignity by shielding this nudity. This is what gardening is really all about - not just growing one plant efficiently, but displaying it with others in such a way as to increase its attraction.

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