Phormium tenax

This evergreen perennial from New Zealand has such an exotic appearance that it looks more appropriate near a building than in the open garden. Pri-marily a foliage plant, the leaves grow in fan-shaped clumps at least 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, are leathery and swordlike and of a deepish green, though there are varieties with purple leaves and others with variegated leaves boldly striped in green and yellow.

Phormiums need a sunny place and deep, moist soil, so the pot must be watered with special care. The species is hardy in most districts with the protection of a wall (the varieties are less reliable), and it is wise to pack straw round the crowns in winter. In some years the plants will produce tall flower spikes in late summer of dusky red flowers growing in panicles, but pot-grown plants flower only rarely, and it is the leaves which are the attraction.

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