Late flowering bulbs continue to provide colour in the garden at this time of the year, when deciduous trees and shrubs are losing their leaves and most herbaceous plants are past their flowering period.
Nerines are colourful South African bulbs which brightens up the autumn garden when many other plants are way past their best. Nerine bowdenii is the most hardy. It produces masses of pink trumpet-shaped blooms on naked stems in September and October.
The long leaves do not appear until the following spring. The following are other varieties worth growing: Nerine sarniensis corusca produces crimson to orange-red flowers in September which are followed directly by foliage development, Nerine undulata produces pink flowers with a crinkled edge to its petals, Nerine flexuosa ‘Alba’ produces white flowers.
Nerines should be planted at the foot of a south facing wall where they can bake in the sun. If you have heavy clay soil grow your nerines in pots or containers using a soil based compost with some grit added to improve drainage. Plant 3 or 4 bulbs in a 7 inch pot, with the shoulders of the bulbs just under the compost and the necks just above the soil. Cover the top of the compost with a layer of grit so that water does not sit next to the bulbs causing them to rot. The bulbs soon settle in and begin to multiply. Do not be too quick to divide and repot the clump as they like to be overcrowded. Leave the pots in a sunny spot on the patio and when the first frost is forecasted, bring them indoors. After the leaves die down in early summer, keep them dry. When the first signs of emerging flowers appear in the autumn give them a thorough watering. Give your nerines a boost by feeding them with a high potash fertiliser such as tomato food. Do not use too much because the bulbs will produce a huge crop of leaves and very little flowers. Plant nerine bulbs in the autumn.
Kaffir Lily (Schizostylis) is another plant from South Africa in flower at this time of the year. It is amazing at this time of the year that even though the clump of leaves may look battered due to wind, elegant blooms appear on the stems. Kaffir lilies flower from August to November so the flower can be affected by frost, the damage is not severe and it tends to affect only the flowers that are open, other flowers further up the stem continue to open in the following days.
The flowers are like miniature gladioli, a flower spike may contain 5 to 20 pink or red flowers, ideal for cutting. The leaves are grassy like a gladioli. Schizostylis coccinea produces a red flower, Schizostylis ‘Sun Rise’ produces pink flowers.
The kaffir lily likes a moist well drained soil. Sow the rhizomes in soil with plenty of well rotted manure added to retain moisture and create the right conditions to allow the rhizomes to spread. If the plant is protected from frost with a mulch it can remain in the same location for several years. Plant the bulbs in the autumn.
Jobs for the Week
Move containers of shrubs or winter bedding to a sheltered spot when conditions turn very cold.
Lift and store dahlia tubers once the leaves are blackened by frost.
Rake autumn leaves from lawns and pick them out of borders for composting. Place bark mulch over the crowns of hardy fuchsias to provide protection from frost.