Tag Archives: Nerine sarniensis hybrids

Tikorangi notes: the calm before the storm

Mood photo as we wait in the calm before the storm. It is the neighbour’s dead tree

It has been a discombobulating day. Since late yesterday, the entire country has been subjected to saturation warnings about the impending Cyclone Cook. I have never seen such a massive advance warning campaign and mobilisation of emergency services prior to an event happening. Be prepared, we have been told, for the worst weather event in the last 49 years. This includes urging us to have at least three days of food and drinking water to hand, to have prepared our own personal evacuation plans – including pets, not to plan on travelling anywhere until the storm has passed even though it is Easter, to tie down trampolines and to put away anything that can be blown around, including the outdoor barbecue.

So this morning has seemed quite unreal here as the weather has been dead calm, quiet and grey. Only now are the rains starting in Taranaki, although the east coast is getting heavy rain falling on land already saturated from last week’s downpours. The cyclonic winds have yet to arrive. I think they are due this evening.

(Post cyclone update – it hit the east coast. We are on the west coast so escaped everything but rain. Not as devastating as feared though there are plenty of roads closed, trees down and power lines down in the eastern areas.)

The shades of nerines currently in bloom

In the meantime, summer has long gone here. Every season has its own rewards and autumn brings us the nerines. In the company of Cyclamen hederafolium and the other autumn bulbs, they are a highlight every year. Less predictable are the brunsvigias which don’t bloom every year for us. The first to flower this year, I was reliably informed on Facebook, is not, as we had thought, one of the species but in fact an amarygia – a hybrid between Brunsvigia josephinae and an amaryllis (otherwise known as a belladonna). So now we know.

The amarygia!

Brunsvigia litoralis

The second one, opening now, is Brunsvigia litoralis. I counted 36 individual florets ready to open – which they will do in sequence over the next few weeks.  These are more South African bulbs where the growth is triggered by summer rain.

Autumn is also feijoa season. I keep optimistically checking beneath our trees but our fruit have yet to start dropping (the sign that they are ripe). This is a curious fruit that central and northern New Zealand seems to have made its own, despite its South American origins. It is one of the few fruiting trees (though a large shrub, really) that can be planted and just left without any further attention. It thrives under benign neglect. In fact it crops so well that it can lead to an edge of desperation. I saw a tweet the other day from somebody who bought a property with seven feijoa trees on it “and now I pick up 20kg every two days which I try to give away”. It is feast or famine with feijoas. They have a short shelf life so are not a good commercial option but almost everybody seems to grow them so rehoming surplus can be problematic. That said, if ours don’t start falling in the next day or two, I may have to buy a bag from a roadside stall I passed the other day.

With our garden closed to the public these days, we don’t accept many tours or groups but the New Zealand chapter of the IDS (International Dendrology Society) was an exception a few weeks ago. Of all the horticultural societies we have encountered over time, the IDS remains our favourite. It attracts the most interesting and knowledgeable people and we really enjoyed their visit. There were 50 in the group and they ate lunch here.

A very small volume of non-recyclables on the right

I show you the waste because I find this very affirming. I put out three receptacles labelled compostable, recyclable and non-recyclable. The right-hand pot of non-recyclable waste was barely a quarter full. All credit to the caterer who set up a situation that generated next to no waste and to the group who were happy to cooperate. Over the years, we have hosted many groups and the volume of waste left behind used to be a real problem for us when we didn’t have a rubbish collection service. Now we have that service but we don’t really need it. It is possible for a large group to move around, eating and drinking on the go, and not leave a whole lot of inorganic waste to mark their passage. This is a good sign. At least, I think so because these things are of increasing importance these days.

  • Dendrology, to save you asking or Googling – is the study of woody trees and shrubs. The thing about dendrologists is that the vast majority are interested in ALL plants, not just woody ones, as well as ecology, natural habitats, gardening and even design.

Autumn bulbs

While late winter and spring are the peak seasons for the many of the bulbs, the lesser known autumn flowering varieties offer fresh seasonal delight at a time when many flowering plants have finished or are passing over. The triggers for these bulbs are a drop in temperature, declining day length and summer rain. They are neither easily available nor widely grown but that may be a chicken or egg situation because many of them are not difficult or touchy.

Moraea polystachya - the autumn flowering peacock iris

Moraea polystachya – the autumn flowering peacock iris

The bulb that gives us the longest flowering season of all at this time of the year is the lovely lilac- blue, autumn Moraea polystachya from South Africa. Each flower is a dainty iris and while individual blooms are brief, new ones open down the stem for many weeks on end, stretching into months. The foliage is fine and light and the wiry flower stems can reach about 50 cm high. It grows from corms and will gently seed down without becoming an undesirable weed. It is particularly attractive popping up in cracks between pavers or on the edges of paths. The problem will be sourcing corms to buy. If you see one growing in somebody else’s garden, ask for seed which is easily raised and should flower in its third year.

Haemanthus coccineus

Haemanthus coccineus

Haemanthus coccineus is most valued for its striking winter foliage – enormous, fleshy leaves which lie flat to the ground, giving the plant its common name of elephant ears. But in early autumn, up pop bristly red flowers looking somewhat like a dish brush head. In fact they are a large cluster of red stamens, each tipped with a generous amount of golden pollen and all encased in six petals that almost resemble a plastic cup. Flowering is triggered by rain and comes just before the new foliage starts to emerge. Plants need excellent drainage and some protection from heavy frosts but will thrive in semi shade.

Colchicum autumnale

Colchicum autumnale

Colchicums are often referred to as autumn crocus, but they are only distant relatives at best and are generally much larger flowered toughies that are easy to grow. Most are so vigorous that they can be established in grass for the meadow look, but keep them away from mown areas because the foliage hangs on right through to spring. Each flower is a cup with six petals and while not long lived, a bulb can put up a succession of blooms. It flowers well before the foliage appears. Most colchicums hail from Europe and are in lilac pink to purple shades. For those who prefer all their flowers in white, there is a white form available but purists may prefer to stay with the dominant colours of the European meadows. The major drawback to the colchicums is that the foliage takes such a long time to die off that it can have a protracted scruffy period but it does at least have lush foliage in the bare winter months.

Nerines sarniensis hybrids

Nerines sarniensis hybrids

Despite their common name of the “Guernsey lily”, nerines hail from South Africa. While there are over 30 different species, the ones most widely available include N. fothergillii (scarlet flowers often referred to as the ‘spider lily’), N. bowdenii (late season flowering, sugar pink with long stems) and N. sarniensis hybrids. It is the hybrids that bring the larger flowers in desirable colours which can range from smoky hues, purple, salmon apricot and across the whole spectrum of shades associated with pink and red. There are white cultivars though I would have to say that we have never found a good pure white form which performs well. All make excellent cut flowers and have a long record of use in floristry.

Nerines have large bulbs which like to sit half in the soil and half baking in the sun. They will struggle in very cold, wet conditions and won’t flower in the shade.

Cyclamen hederafolium

Cyclamen hederafolium

Cyclamen hederafolium is one of the star performers for us, opening its first flowers as early as January and continuing through late summer to peak in autumn. Once the flowering is finished, the lovely heart shaped dark green leaves which are lightly marbled in silver remain a feature through winter. Flowers vary in colour from pure white, pale pink to dark pink, though not on the same tuber. As long as the tuber does not rot out, it can get very large over time – at least as big as a bread and butter plate. It is best nestled into the soil, as opposed to buried beneath. In C. hederafolium, the roots, flower stems and leaves all sprout afresh each year from the top of the tuber so you need to plant it the right way up. It will grow in full sun through semi shade to woodland conditions of high shade and, when happy, it will seed down over time and naturalise – as long as you don’t garden around it with weed spray. Good drainage is the key.

The species cyclamen have a delicate charm which has long gone from the pot hybrids sold as indoor plants. C. hederafolium is the easiest and most reliable of the species. There is nothing rare about it, except I failed to find anybody selling it this season. It is easy to raise from seed if you know of somebody with a plant. Harvest the seed in late spring and sow it in a pot or tray immediately. It can reach flowering size in as little as 18 months.

Ornamental oxalis

Ornamental oxalis

Oxalis. Spare a thought for the poor, maligned oxalis family which gets dismissed out of hand because of a few bad eggs. Call them by their romantic common name of wood sorrel if it makes you feel better. There are over 800 members of the family and by no means are they all invasive weeds. Neither are they all worthwhile garden plants either, but some of them are autumn stars for us. All oxalis need full sun because they only open their flowers in the bright light. If you remain nervous about them, plant them in wide, shallow pots and place them on sunny steps to give you a seasonal display. When you repot them after a year, you can see clearly which ones show invasive potential because they will have formed multitudes of babies. These ones are best kept in pots forever but others are perfectly garden safe.

Over the years, we gathered up maybe 30 different oxalis species and you can often find dry bulbs of different ones offered for sale on Trade Me. Some have very short flowering seasons and I am not sure it is worth my time to repot them each year. Others are exceptionally good. The best of all is O. purpurea alba. It has an abundance of very large, glistening pure white flowers with a golden centre and it flowers over a very long period. The foliage is a flat mat of green, slightly hairy, clover-like leaves. We have had it in the garden here for decades and it has never been badly behaved or shown invasive tendencies. There are other forms of O. purpurea with pink flowers and with burgundy red foliage (O. purpurea ‘Nigrescens’). While these are also very showy, they can be a bit too rampant and are best kept in pots.

Other personal favourites are O. massoniana (feathery foliage and masses of pretty flowers in apricot with a yellow eye), O. hirta lavender and the sunny yellow O.luteola. There are no blue or green flowered oxalis, as far as I know, but they come in pretty much every other colour.

Other autumn flowering bulbs which we value, but which will be even harder to source are Lycoris aurea (which looks like a golden nerine), Rhodophiala bifida and some of the autumnal tricyrtus, particularly T. macrantha.

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The Guernsey Lily 

Guernsey’s only claim to nerines is cut flower production. The exact method of arrival to the Channel Islands is unknown but there are records of N. sarniensis growing, and presumably flowering, in Paris as early as 1630. By the 1800s, Guernsey already had a flower export trade in full swing and was sending nerines to England. The local folklore version, laying claim to the nerine, has charm.

The Guernsey lily folk tale from the Visit Guernsey website:

Legend holds that a handsome fairy prince met and fell madly in love with Michelle de Garis, a beautiful Guernsey girl. Michelle left her cottage early one morning to see to her cows. As she entered the meadow, she was surprised to find a young man asleep on the grass. He had a particularly small stature, was finely proportioned, and remarkably handsome.

Michelle stood and admired the small man dressed in green and with bow and arrow. When he awoke he told Michelle that he was a fairy prince from England and asked for her hand in marriage, as they had both instantly fallen in love. She agreed but as they headed to Fairyland she asked that she leave a token to reassure her family. The prince gave her a bulb, which she planted.

Michelle’s mother later discovered a beautiful flower above Vazon bay, on the west coast of Guernsey. It was the colour of Michelle’s shawl and sprinkled with elfin gold – the Guernsey lily.

Sometime later on, many fairy men came from Fairyland, entranced by Michelle’s beauty and looking for a Guernsey girl of their own. They asked that Guernseymen gave up their wives and daughters, which ended in many battles between the fairies and Guernseymen. The Rouge Rue (Red Road) is said to have been named after a particularly fierce battle.

First published in the May issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.