Thursday, October 23, 2008

A splash of pink

At the end of the summer season and heralding autumn, a strange and wonderful plant grows in the very small space next to the white painted wall.Nerines do things backwards. In spring they create leaves that die down in summer and in the autumn they send up one long tender stem which when opening reveals a fantastic blossom. Whereas the garden seems to want to go to sleep, the nerines's colour contrasts well with the red leaves and the autumn colours around. They love being sunbaked and appear in a few corners of the garden. A lovely single stem flower.

Plant nerines in spring in free-draining soil at the foot of a south-facing wall, where they can bake in the sun. If you have heavy garden soil or are growing the tender kinds, grow them in pots of John Innes No3, the soil-based compost, with some grit to improve drainage.

Plant three or four in an 18cm pot, with the shoulders of the bulbs just under the compost and the necks protruding. Finish with a 1cm layer of grit to prevent water sitting next to the bulb and causing it to rot.

Leave the pots in a sunny spot on the patio and bring them indoors when the first frost is forecast.

After the leaves die down in early summer, keep them dry. When the first signs of emerging flowers appear in autumn, give them a thorough watering. Don't overdo it or the bulbs will produce a huge crop of leaves and very few flowers.

The bulbs soon begin to multiply. Don't be too quick to divide and re-pot the clump as they like to be overcrowded.

Nerines look great against dark or evergreen backdrops, mixed with the primary blue Salvia patens, set against the smoky purple leaves of Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' or among other patio containers.

Use them to replace bedding plants that are past their best.

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