Sunday 15 December 2019

Nerine lily stands out with sugar pink twirls

THE jaunty flowers of the nerine lily are opening now and bringing their seasonal charm to gardens. The flowers are the colour of pink candyfloss and they really stand out against the fading charms of autumnal trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. This wonderful flower from South Africa seems to have survived the cold of last winter very well.

This is surprising because the bulbs are usually quite exposed on the surface, as the bulbs like to be, pushing each other half-way out of the ground. But then, they are usually only seen in gardens in the milder parts of the country, and the frost was not so bad in those places. In any case, they have survived and are flowering well.

The flowers are really slow to develop and the bulbs need to be of a certain size, about the size of a small onion, though longer and relatively narrow. The rounded flower head carries about 10 individual flowers and these open in succession in October, a brilliant pink with a glistening shiny surface to the petals. The individual petals are narrow, frilled and ruffled along the edge, curled back to give a lively appearance.

The flowers open just as the leaves finally turn yellow and rot away. The flower stems stand well into next year and occasionally even carry a seed berry or two, though not many. The flower stems can be cut away after flowering, but they are not unsightly and the plant can re-absorb most of the nutrients back into the bulb if the flower stems are left in place.

The nerine lily has a remarkable effect on any garden in which it is grown. The lively pink flowers lift the area around them, bringing colour and freshness. There are others, named varieties in many shades of red and orange. These are very beautiful, similar in appearance to the garden form, but with a tighter ball of flowers that have the appearance of a firework explosion. Unfortunately, these are not robust enough for outdoor use and are normally grown only in pots as greenhouse specimens.

When planting nerines in the garden, choose a spot near the front of a bed or border. The flowers are only knee-high and are ideal for the front of a bed where they can be seen to best advantage. When the flowers fade and the narrow strappy leaves appear, they make a very pretty arching ground cover that is low-growing and inconspicuous.

It is best to plant the bulbs as a group and to locate a few groups so that they play off each other, a remarkable effect on a sunny day. Choose a sunny spot in well-drained soil and avoid any disturbance over the years.

Sunday Independent

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