Plant of the Month: September 2011

  As the days shorten and the lawns are laden with dew the South African bulbous perennial Nerine bowdenii shows its flowers. As regular as clockwork the sudden burst of pink takes the border by surprise and then lasts well into November if no frost damage occurs.

The bulbs, often thought to be on the verge of hardiness, thrive best when planted at the base of a south or west facing wall. In the open border soil must be free draining. At planting set the top of the truncated bulb above soil level. The leaves are pushed out during and after flowering, growing through the winter months. In theory they rely on a sumer baking during their resting period. As can be observed from the prolific flowering of the groups in the Garden, although this past summer has seen little sun, the bulbs still developed and are now flowering well.

As the planting becomes established, by division and multiplication of the bulbs, the group can look overcrowded. If flowering is reduced then split and divide allowing further room for development. On the whole Nerine bowdenii is better left undisturbed.

The flower stem is capped by an umbel and as the buds break open they resemble crabs' pincers. These continue to expand, the six petals forming delicate edges with a very faint scent. The flowers are so colourful and distinctive they are recognisable in the landscape from 100 paces or more.

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