I expect most people know the famous tale of how Nerine sarniensis, The Guernsey Lily came to Guernsey. It is probably apocryphal but it makes a romantic story. Bulbs were supposed to have been washed up onto the sandy shores of Guernsey and taken root after the ship carrying them sunk in 1659. However they arrived there from their native South Africa, they have been grown in Guernsey since the seventeenth century. Hybridisers have been busy and they come in the most exquisite colours. But they are not hardy. During their growing period, October until May they need to be kept between 9 and 13 degrees Centigrade. They get new leaves in winter and frost kills them. They need a good, free circulation of air because they are mountain plants. The one in my picture has finished flowering now and is going to be a worry to me for the rest of the winter. I would love more but I really haven’t got the facilities to look after them.
But never mind, I have other nerines which are looking wonderful now and which are much easier to care for.
I keep them in pots because I am not sure that they are all completely hardy, although the pots live in an unheated greenhouse in the winter. I have lost the lovely white Nerine bowdenii ‘Alba’ before so I won’t chance leaving her outside again.
I would not grow Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’ outside because it is a hybrid between bowdenii and sarniensis, so I don’t believe it is hardy. I wouldn’t like to risk it anyway. I have had it for years and it has only now managed three flower spikes. But it is so beautiful. The flowers are enormous and are a deep cerise pink.
I think it looks lovely sitting next to the hardy Begonia ‘Silver Splendor’ whose flowers are a perfect match.
A friend gave me Nerine undulata about 17 years ago. when I believe it was called Nerine crispa. He told me that it was hardy and I had it in the garden for a few years. But I have moved about over the last few years and so it has lived in a pot and it is obviously happy. Nerines love it when their bulbs are really congested. I keep thinking I should split it up, especially as friends are always begging me for bits, but it looks so wonderful I can’t bear to divide it. I have counted and there are 38 flower spikes.(Don’t all gardeners count their flowers?) The flowers of Nerine undulata are pale pink and delicate , like spidery ribbons.
I love to keep all these beautiful nerines in pots on a table outside my kitchen window so that they are always in view. They will stay here until frost is threatened and then they will go into the greenhouse.
Outside in the garden Nerine bowdenii grows happily and increases every year. It is quite hardy. I grow this clump with the deep pink, double Gypsophila paniculata ‘Flamingo’.
As they increase so rapidly I have clumps all over the garden. Some people have asked me how I get them to flower. They are easy as long as you remember that they need full sun to bake their bulbs. They prefer a light soil and they must not be planted too deeply. They like the tips of their bulbs just above soil level. Although they need to be baked by the sun they must have plenty of water from July onwards. I think the watering is the key to getting lots of flowers.
The name ‘Nerine‘ is supposed to come from the Greek word ‘Nereis’ which means sea-nymph. What a beautiful name for such an exquisite flower. Incidentally, even though they are called Guernsey lilies, they are not lilies at all. They belong to the Amaryllidaceae family.
I have just a few but there are so many more. I wonder which ones you grow? If you don’t grow any, put them to the top of your wish list for next year. You know you really need nerines, we all do. If you haven’t got a greenhouse then plant some Nerine bowdenii in your sunniest spot.