26: Autumn 2010

Author: James McCombe

Season of Mists

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Season of Mists
James McCombe

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun, well if Keats had been out and about in Riverside Place in October last year these words would not have come to mind. While one day it was sunny with the wind sweeping down from what’s left of the Polar Ice Cap, though my ears tell me it’s still there, the next day the rain is being driven by the prevailing winds across the River Tay estuary. Not so much mellow but the explosive climax of the dying year. The plants were closing down and preparing themselves for another winter and another year. Even then there are some which are making a late bid to catch up and exploit the lack of competition.

Probably the most notable of all the flowering autumn plants are the nerines of which Nerine bowdenii is the most reliable and hardiest of the genus. Notwithstanding, it is worthwhile trying some of the other cultivars of which I have two and hope to add a third. The first one I acquired was N. bowdenii ‘Marnie Rogerson’, then there was N. ‘Stephanie’. I tried a third, the pure white N. ‘Virgo’, unfortunately this turned out to be N. bowdenii which I already have. Nerines like good light, either south or north facing. Being South African bulbs they prefer good drainage, a fertile soil is not necessary and unlike most bulbs they should be planted with the base of their necks at ground level with the tip clearly showing. It is not uncommon after a few years for the bulbs to end up on the surface as a result of overcrowding, this does no harm. In fact they are supposed to like remaining undisturbed. On one visit to Benmore Botanic Garden (a satellite of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) I was quite surprised to see a large group of N. bowdenii flowering in the walled garden despite the 100 plus inches of rain (or to be melodramatic, 8 feet of water) per year.

With regard to the aforementioned cultivar N. b. ‘Marnie Rogerson’, this has turned out to be a disappointment compared to N. ‘Stephanie’. It lacks the vigour and has shown to be unwilling to build up bulbs quickly still having only five bulbs after about eight or nine years, while ‘Stephanie’ has now six or seven bulbs despite being planted a couple of years later and only 18 inches away. N. b. ‘Marnie Rogerson’ is a delicate shade of pale salmon pink infused with white. Bob Brown’s Cotswold Garden Plants web site lists it as easy, I must be going wrong somewhere, so I propose raising it a couple of inches. The anthers are a delightful ivory while the filament is a stronger pink. The backs of the petals are a slightly stronger salmon pink. ‘Stephanie’ is similar to ‘Marnie Rogerson’, when in bud but it opens out to reveal white petals with slight streaking of salmon pink towards the throat and salmon pink in bud fading to white on the inside and outside.

To appreciate the subtleties of these flowers close inspection is required. The light green strap shape foliage is scruffy and of no great ornamental value but they are not grown for their foliage. Over the years the necks of the bulbs gradually elongate with dying of the leaves which form the neck.

Nerines are definitely a must for this time of year. The weather resistant flowers defy all that the wind and rain can throw at them, quite remarkable for a South African plant, the flowers remaining unblemished even after several weeks of sunshine, wind and rain. Mine stand face on to the wind blowing up the River Tay. The Cotswold Garden Flowers web site has a good collection of hybrids for sale. Must get one of the reds, this is what happens when one writes articles, one ends up talking oneself into getting some plants.

First published in the Scottish & Northern Borders Group Newsletter, Spring 2009
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 26.
© Copyright for this article: James McCombe

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2010. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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