Libertia grandiflora

Libertia Grandiflora
3ft (90cm)
4ft (120cm)
white / brown
May-June
full sun/light shade
average soil
hardy to -5C
evergreen, architectural

Libertia grandiflora (Syn. Libertia chilensis) is, I believe, a little-known and undervalued plant which has some great design potential given the right situation: Evergreen, architectural, easy care, free-flowering… what’s not to like?

Native of New Zealand, this evergreen grassy perennial forms substantial clumps which reach over 3ft (90cm) high and 4ft (120cm) wide after five or six years. Despite only being hardy to -5C my plants have survived the last twelve winters in the South of England unscathed. This marginal hardiness probably limits the locations it can be grown in Britain to southern counties, coastal areas, city courtyards and other sheltered locations. Alternatively, grow it in pots which can be taken in to an unheated greenhouse or conservatory in the winter.

Libertia Form & Foliage

The leaves of Libertia grandiflora are narrow (½-¾” / 1 to 2cm wide), pointed, tough, fibrous and dark green with a texture reminiscent of New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax). Unlike the rather municipal Phormium, Libertia produces a pleasingly symmetrical clump, which deserves to be given space to look its best.

A pot-grown specimen of Libertia grandiflora which I have placed in front of a hedge to better illustrate its overall form.

As you can see in the photo above, the flowering spikes of Libertia grandiflora increase its dimensions considerably, protruding above and to the sides by up to 2ft (60cm). In my garden I have found that this makes it a difficult plant to place as it really needs more space than I have been able to give it.

Libertia Flowers

In April, numerous flowering stems emerge from within the foliage, each being three to four feet in length (90 to 120cm). The final foot (30cm) of which carries a panicle consisting of several clusters of buds which open in succession from May to June. These panicles something of an oriental appearance reminiscent of Japanese paintings of a sprig of cherry blossom. There is a certain zig-zagging and curvature to the stems, with an interesting distribution of flowers along it that deserves careful observation.

Libertia are members of the iris family (Iridaceae) and this is evident in their individual flowers which are composed of three larger petals, with three smaller ones behind and between them. In the familiar garden iris these are equivalent to the flags and falls.

Flowers open in succession Each individual flower being between one to one and a half inches across (2 – 4cm) and — in the Northern Hemisphere — open in succession over several weeks throughout May and into early June.

The flowers are a really clear and pure bright white. A plant in full bloom can be an arresting sight, especially when seen in the twilight or under strong moonlight where is positively glows.

Although not scented the flowers attract pollinators.

While the petals are pure white, the flowers, buds and panicle as a whole also contain small amounts of ruddy brown.

Architectural qualities of Libertia in my garden

I have a black and white theme in my garden: black fences and shed cladding, with white doors. Libertia looks particulalrly good with conjunction with these architectural elements. That said, I don’t feel like I have used it to its full potential; for example, it feels a bit cramped in the box-edged bed in the first photo above. Ideally it needs more space to really do it justice and show it at its best. In the following section I’ll share some thoughts about its potential.

Design Ideas for Libertia grandiflora

Ideal locations…

  • Gravel garden: Especially a seaside garden or next to water
  • Modern courtyard: It would look good with stucco walls or timber cladding
  • Urban planting: Lends itself to minimalist architectural locations or roof gardens
  • Large pots: Libertia can look striking paired with a suitable pot
  • Mixed border: Place it where a focal point is required, or where its grassy foliage contrasts with more rounded forms
  • Massed planting/hedge: Libertia can look spectacular planted en-mass lining either side of a path

Goes well with…

  • Smaller plants: surround with silver foliage plants such as Stachys lanata or Artemisia, or plant it amongst a low growing sea of Geranium macrorrhizum, purple leaved Ajuga reptant Catlin’s Giant, or Nepeta
  • Architectural plants: Euphorbias, Alliums, Hebes
  • Perennials: Nepeta, tall Lilies, ornamental grasses, tall Salvias, Phlomis, Inula

Some design ideas collected from Pinterest…

Libertia: care and maintenance

Once flowering has finished the flowering stems can be cut off to tidy up the plant, although this is not essential. Eventually, they will die back and turn brown, so you may want to do it later.

Although the leaves are evergreen, a small number of them die back every year, turning brown and gradually making the whole plant look rather tatty. If there are not too many of these they can be cut out individually with scissors or sharp secateurs, and if this chore is completed every year the plant will continue to look good and the task never become overwhelming.

On the other hand, if like me you don’t get round to it for a few years you might be faced with a very laborious job. In such situations the whole plant can be refreshed by cutting it down to the ground and letting it sprout a whole new crown of foliage. When I first wanted to do this I couldn’t find anyone online who had good tried it, so I took the plunge and it worked!

Renovating Libertia by cutting it to the ground

The good news is that Libertia can be renovated every few years by cutting it right back, removing all of the leaves. The fresh new growth that emerges will look fresh for another few years.

Five years on (2020) and the whole plant has caught up and is looking much more tidy

28 thoughts on “Libertia grandiflora”

  1. Excellent post. Just what I wanted to know and to have sequential photos as well was brilliant.
    Well done and Thank you

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful. Good luck with your libertias!

      Reply
  2. This post was exactly the advice i was searching for and incredibly helpful to have the photo’s, thank you. The top third of all my Libertia are brown after the February frosts but flower shoots are all appearing now, so they are obviously still alive therefore I’m wondering what time of year did the big chop?

    Reply
    • I think you could do it at any time and the plant will recover. Obviously, if you do it now it is unlikely to flower again this year, but by the autumn I suspect it will have grown back its foliage to almost the original size.

      Reply
  3. Hello,

    I inherited a large clump of libertia from a neighbour, that remained in a pot all winter, looking rather tatty and which I divided into 3 small clumps and planted (full sun) because we were doing building works until March, in April.

    The clumps seem to have taken well (they had good roots, as far as I could tell), but I was a little disapproved that no flowering stems appeared.

    Is this because I divided and planted it too late, for flowers this year, and it’s concentrating on settling its roots?

    Should I have cut it down to the ground like you ugly after planting? Or should I maybe do that now, hoping for some flowers later on in the year, or should I just leave it until next year now?

    I’m in London, where we have had a very wet and cool May, preceded by a mild and totally dry April. Weird weather!

    Many thanks 🙏🏻

    Reply
    • Hi Jessica,

      When I have divided my libertia they have always flowered on time. That said, I think I have always divided mine in the later half of the year (i.e. after they had flowered), so perhaps dividing them now has set them back a bit.

      I’d be patient and see if they flower in the next few weeks, but if they don’t, then you might as well get on with cutting them down to get some nice fresh foliage. They will almost certainly flower next year.

      Reply
  4. I have subscribed and will need to come back when I have a luxurious stretch of time for wandering through your beautiful and incredibly useful website. I just spent hours in my own garden today moving two tiny pots of libertia grandiflora around while squinting in hopes of discovering where they best belong. Just loved coming inside to find online your photos of mature plants in alternate placements–complete with your thoughts on pros and cons, and then learning at the same time that this plant will come back if whacked. (I have a large one in my back garden which may need rejuvenation within the next year or so. And now I won’t be intimidated into any gardening by handwringing, which only occasionally seems to work.)

    Reply
  5. Really great post – thank you. The photos really help! I have many libertias which are now about 8 or 9 years old. They are rather huge! They do have some brown leaves, which I don’t mind so much, but this year two plants also developed a lot of yellow leaves. Have you come across this? Are they ill? They are still flowering, but do look less attractive. Any advice would be much appreciated.
    I am in South Devon, very close to the coast.

    Reply
    • They don’t have any specific diseases that I know of, but it may be the result of the last month of dry weather I guess. If you want to make them all fresh again, after flowering, cut them down close to the ground. They will grow back fine, with fresh new foliage (for a couple of years at least).

      Reply
  6. Exactly what I wanted to know. I grew some plants from seed a few years ago and they are now flowering for the first time. Leaves though are beginning to look tatty and I was wondering if I could cut them down. Now I know! thank you.

    Reply
  7. I brought my libertia from the Western Isles where the mother plant was in the Bank front garden. So many people asked the staff about it that the girls kept a note of its name in a drawer. There and here ( South West Scotland) it flourishes beautifully and in North Uist seeded itself.
    Thank you for your detailed site which I have just discovered.

    Reply
  8. Hello, I have a similar issue with the Libertia Grandiflora in my garden. They haven’t been cut back or de leafed in years!!. I have just used your method to cut the plant right back and the inside is solid mulch. Looks like dense mud & bark from a build up of old leaves. Is this normal?! And will the plant still grow back? I can’t seem to cut it any lower than 6 inches due to how solid it’s become. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • That’s all quite normal. The new leaves will sprout from within the matted fibrous mass. If it is a very old plant it may have died off in the middle, but in my experience even the centre sprouted just fine. In fact, after cutting back like you have, I split up one clump, dividing it into a half-dozen pieces (not easy as so tough) which I planted in big pots and gave away. They all sprouted fine.

      Reply
  9. Really useful post thank you. Mine is also looking a. It tatty.
    Now it’s autumn and lots of perennials need a trim to the ground ready for next year. If I do this now will up it fully recover and flower again next year. Also looking to move it at the same time.

    Reply
    • I think autumn will be fine. Perhaps better in a few weeks once it gets colder and growth pauses, but they are really quite tough. Mine flowered the following year – fewer flowers perhaps, but it was back in full swing the following year.

      Reply
    • Oh, and if you are moving it, then definitely do in closer to winter when its dormant so there is less transplant shock. When I moved mine, I divided the rootball and got three good plants out if it. One chunk grew fine in a large pot for in a couple of years before I gave it away. It lives in London now and is going strong!

      Reply
  10. Hello, we have dug up a massive libertia and I’ve separated some pieces out with roots to replant (into pots). What is the best type of potting soil to use and how much space should I allow when planting into pots?

    Reply
    • Hi, Sorry that I only just picked up your message. Hope my reply is still useful…

      I have replanted mine successfully in ordinary garden soil mixed with a bit of fresh compost. They seem pretty unfussy. As far as pot size goes, it depends on how long you are going to keep them in the pots. I planted mine in 5L pots and a big chunk in a large planted (20L). Most of the small offsets came through the winter, as did the larger chunk.

      Reply
  11. Another brilliant post, thank you for this … I have just bought two libertia’s to go in my garden but have just read online that spring is the time to plant them out 😓 so you think they will be ok through the winter In Their nursery pots ? Here was me thinking I could get them started ready for growth next spring.

    Reply
    • I’d plant them now. Unless we get a long period of -10C I would expect them to get through the winter fine. Outdoors, they will do better in the ground than in pots.

      Reply

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