Nerines – The no maintenance beauty

How to grow nerines


Life & Style
Nerine flexuosa ‘Alba’ flower best after a hot dry summer followed by autumn rain.

Nerine flexuosa ‘Alba’ flower best after a hot dry summer followed by autumn rain.

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Nerines love our dry summers but in order to bloom they need a sharp early autumn jolt in the form of rain. Fiona Ogilvie gives advice on how to grow them.

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Hurrah, my white nerines (N. flexuosa ‘Alba’) are flowering. Nerines love our dry summers but in order to bloom they need a sharp early autumn jolt in the form of rain.

Ongoing drought had me worried I might miss out.

N. ‘Alba’ is almost evergreen and I could see leaves but no flower buds.

Then an unexpected shower did the trick, only 12 millimetres but it was enough to get them up and running.

To my surprise, the bulbs are growing in the more or less perpetually dry shade of a Smoke Bush, Cotinus Flame, one of my best shrubs for autumn colour even in drought.

I’m always exceptionally excited to discover anything that performs in dry shade so I’m a big fan of nerines, especially as many of them are hardy to at least -5 degree celsius. 

Some say the (nerines) bulbs floated ashore from a ship wreck and liked their new home so much they settled there...

The shower also produced a couple of flowering stems of deciduous, sugar pink N. bowdenii, a taller species (400-600mm.) whose leaves emerge after the flowers.

Again, the bulbs growing in shade are blooming; there’s no sign of life from those in full sun, though I can see their noses poking up from the ground. 

Originally from South Africa, nerines arrived in the Northern Hemisphere via the Channel Islands in the 16th century.

Some say the (nerines) bulbs floated ashore from a ship wreck and liked their new home so much they settled there, others claim more prosaically that the shipwrecked sailors gave the bulbs salvaged from the cargo to the Dean of Guernsey, John de Sausmarez 

The original species was named Nerine sarniensis for the sea nymph Neriae and Sarnia, Guernsey’s Latin name.

It has brick red flowers, is about the same height (350mm.) as N. ‘Alba’ and in combination with the hardier N. bowdenii is a parent of many beautiful modern hybrids. 

Nerines have a marked preference for a Mediterranean-type climate with winter rainfall. Extra watering in autumn can increase their flowers by up to one third, I’ve found.

They are happy in dry, free draining, preferably sandy soil, bloom for several weeks from Anzac Day into May and last well when cut.

They have no scent, but you can’t everything in this world.

They’re ideal bulbs for the busy gardener as their main dislike is disturbance, there’s nothing they enjoy so much as huddling together and growing into a congested clump. 

You can easily increase your stock by chipping.

Take a dormant bulb and cut it up exactly as if you were quartering a tomato for salad, being sure to keep a piece of the basal plate on each segment. 

Put in a plastic bag containing ten parts vermiculite (from garden centres) and one part water, seal and store in warm shade.

Bulbs should start developing after three months and can then be potted. 

By the way beware ads for a yellow nerine.

It’s actually Lycoris aurea, which wouldn’t mater except that Lycoris are from Asia and need year round moisture. 

Heads Up: Fiona and Bill’s garden will open for Bathurst Garden Club Spring Spectacular (www.bathurstgardenclub.org.au/) October 29/29, $20 for 10 gardens.

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