Nerine bowdenii

The standard instructions for growing this bulb are not always correct, and I have revised my old-fashioned views after consulting a celebrated nerine grower who has collected and observed many nerines in the wild. In their native home, South Africa, they do not grow in clumps, but the large flowers shoot up from single, scattered bulbs.

The only species hardy in Britain is N. bowdenii, which is leafless and dormant in winter, and can therefore take cold weather, though other species can be grown under glass. The exotic-looking flowers grow in large, well-rounded umbels of up to eight bluish-pink flowers on bare stalks, and bloom in autumn, when there is little of this colour in the garden. Contrary to received wisdom, the bulbs should be planted in late summer as much as 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) deep, and 5 inches (12.5 cm) apart, in the poorest possible soil; if they form clumps, and the bulbs are forced to the surface, it means that the soil is too rich. Sand may be placed under the bulbs at planting time. In South Africa, nerines grow in light shade in the wild, but in cooler climates they need some sun and light, and, if possible, the protection of a wall. They are lime-tolerant, and should not be disturbed unless crowded clumps have formed despite your careful treatment,

The best form of N. bowdenii is ‘Fenwick’s Variety’, with larger and deeper pink flowers than the species. There are other species and varieties in various shades of red, pink, orange and white, but they are not hardy. I personally think that nerines look best on their own, perhaps in a narrow bed under a wall. The flowers are wonderful for cutting.

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