Tag Archives: nerines

Autumn nerines

The autumn rockery this week

Look at the nerines. Autumn stars, these are.

We grow a few different species but what is coming into bloom now are what we refer to as the N. sarniensis hybrids. I will admit that I do not know what they were hybridised with. As they appear to have been popular in both Europe and Japan by the 1600s, I am guessing the genes are pretty mixed by now but dominated by the species, N. sarniensis.

It really is shocking pink or highlighter pink, brighter even than in this photo

All nerines hail from areas of southern Africa and there are currently 24 species recognised. Notwithstanding that origin, the common name internationally is the ‘Guernsey lily’ owing to that island in the English Channel adopting the flower early on as its own and establishing a cut flower trade with it. I have no idea if it is fact or legend that a ship carrying a load of nerine bulbs to the Netherlands was wrecked nearby and the bulbs floated to the shores of Guernsey Island and naturalised themselves on the coastline. It is a good story and bulbs had to get there somehow.

The history of nerines in cultivation seems to be pretty murky, maybe because it goes back over 400 years. I had always assumed – based on the photos of the Guernsey lily that appeared to be predominantly red – that sarniensis in the wild was red. Mark thought it was orange, based on Nerine fothergilla major (which has now been reclassified as sarniensis, just to confuse us further) but it appears that the colour may be variable in the wild.

Our nerines range from pure white through pale pink, pink and white bi colours, mid pinks, coral shades, shocking pink, cerise, crimson, shades of orange and scarlet.

Ageing to blue purple tones

“Oh lord,” said Mark, looking at the purple ones on my flower lay, “the phone will ring next week with people wanting a purple nerine. Reader, they don’t open purple. Mark spent a bit of time crossing and selecting to get the blue and purple lines in the flowers and those ones age to purple. We never named any of them and we don’t know if other breeders have similar shades which they have put on the market, which would seem likely. Whether any are available in New Zealand is another matter.

Very few of our nerines have ever been sold commercially. We have a few named cultivars originally from the Exbury collection in the UK (where they have to grow them under glass), Felix Jury named a few but not many and I think Mark named one that we once sold. It is all a bit academic now because we just enjoy them in the garden and it doesn’t matter to us whether they are named cultivars or unnamed hybrids.

These nerines are deciduous and they put up their flower spikes before putting out the fresh foliage. I don’t love the foliage in spring when it is getting tatty and tired and we have some quite big clumps of them, but they make up for it in autumn. Because they have foliage through the winter, sarniensis nerines are frost tender and they struggle in cold, wet conditions. They need to be in full sun with sharp drainage and the large bulbs nestled into the soil but with their top half and necks exposed to bake in the sun. They are quite particular about conditions and won’t flower if they don’t like them. Nerine bowdenii which flowers later is much easier, hardier and less particular but only comes in pink, I think.

Plant Collector: Nerine filifolia

The daintiest of nerines - N. filifolia

The daintiest of nerines – N. filifolia

Nerines are a star of our autumn garden so the appearance of N.filifolia always arouses that slight sense of autumnal melancholy in me, coinciding as it does with the realisation that the days are getting shorter again. But the references tell me that in fact it is summer flowering and certainly it is always the first nerine to bloom here. It is also the daintiest member of that family that we have. It is tiny. While the stems can be about 25cm long, individual flowers are only a cm across at most with particularly frilly, waved petals in deep pink and nine flowers to each head.

The filifolia part of the name means fine foliage, grass-like in the vernacular. With us it is evergreen. In harder climates, it may lose its leaves. Like all nerines, it is a South African bulb, from the Eastern Cape area. It builds up easily and is not fussy in the garden, as long as it doesn’t get swamped by stronger growing plants.

Nobody could call it spectacular. It is just one of those little treasures that adds detail and seasonal interest to the garden. The problem will be sourcing bulbs. You will probably only find it from bulb specialists or other gardeners, though Trade Me is always worth watching for odd plants that are not widely available these days.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi notes: April 23, 2010

Latest posts.
1) Nerines, mostly sarniensis hybrids, are a mainstay of our autumn rockery.
2) Instead of thinking buxus hedges, think instead about lines and definition in the garden. There are other ways to achieve a similar outcome without the blighted buxus hedge – Abbie’s column.
3) Our mild and dry autumn continues – weekly garden tasks and hints.
4) It may be six months until our annual Garden and Rhododendron Festival here in Taranaki, but dedicated garden openers are hard at work and counting down already.

Autumn in the rockery at Tikorangi

Our rockery has two main periods when it is at its fullest and most colourful – in the early spring when dwarf daffodils, snowdrops and many other tiny treasures bloom and right now in autumn when the nerines and cyclamen hederafolium are at their best. My summer mission taking apart every pocket in the rockery has borne fruit with renewed vigour apparent throughout. Some may think the nerines on the garish side but we love their autumn display. We have a whole range of colours now from nearly apricot through coral, orange, reds, pastel pinks to highlighter pink and deeper, smoky colours bordering on purple. Felix Jury worked with the nerines, mainly sarniensis hybrids and he acquired some of the Exbury hybids over 40 years ago. Most of the cultivars in our garden are unnamed hybrids from that time although Mark has also had a play in his turn and did name one, Coral Star, which we have sold in the past. Felix’s preference leaned towards the smoky plum colours and he named two: Smoky Queen and Nelson’s Blood.

From near apricot to near purple with plenty of oranges, reds and pinks between