People know summer-blooming agapanthus, also known as African lily and lily of the Nile, for its large clusters of violet, blue or white lily-like flowers atop tall stalks and clumps of sturdy strap-like leaves. Easy-care lily of the Nile grows 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on the variety, and makes an excellent ground cover, border or container plant. Good companions thrive under similar growing conditions and offer similar form yet striking color contrasts.
Red Hot Poker
Another African native, red hot poker or Kniphofia uvaria was once included in the lily family, but, thanks to new knowledge revealed by DNA testing, is now considered a close relative of aloe. Flowers come in red, orange, apricot, yellow and cream, carried in torch-like clusters atop tall fleshy stems — an appearance that explains the plant’s other popular name, torch lily. Red hot poker’s leaves are 30 inches long and sword-like, and when massed behind or in front of agapanthus help "fill" in the gap between its flowers and leaves. Most Kniphofia varieties send up 3- to 4-foot scapes, or flower heads, in late spring and early summer–providing stunning color contrast when used behind blue-flowered agapanthus. There are shorter varieties of red hot poker too; use these in the foreground of mass plantings or mixed with shorter agapanthus types. Red hot poker does best in sunny locations with well-drained soils, though partial shade is fine in hot climates. Heavy clay soils or too much winter water will lead to root rot.
Once known as the sword lily, gladiolus is an easy to grow summer-flowering bulb highly prized for its brilliantly colored wands of blooms — every color from red, orange, coral, apricot and yellow to pink, purple, pale lavender-purple, white and a surprising array of bicolor combinations. Grow pink or hot-colored gladioli in the foreground of mass agapanthus plantings for most dramatic effect, either in flowerbeds or container plantings. Like agapanthus, gladiolus does best in moist, well-drained soils. When buying gladiolus corms, keep in mind that you’ll get what you pay for. If you want plants that will bloom immediately — sometimes with two or more flower spikes — buy jumbo, number one or number two sized corms.
These tough, adaptable plants, also not true lilies, make cheery companions for agapanthus. Summer-blooming daylilies, which come in varieties that range from 1 to 4 feet tall, also come in colors of the rainbow that should pair up well with agapanthus — everything from hot red, orange and yellow tones to deep and pale pinks, purples, whites and countless color combinations. There are unusual daylily forms too, such as thin-petaled "spider" types, which offer extra interest. Some newer, night-blooming varieties stay open all day and close the following night. Others are very fragrant, or have double or ruffled flowers. "Reblooming" varieties such as "Stella de Oro" will bloom periodically all summer. Daylilies also need moist, well-drained, organically rich soil.