I know this title sounds whimsical but the word ‘nerine’ is Greek and it means ‘nereid‘ which is a sea nymph. I think it is much prettier than the original name, ‘Imhofia’. Although they have nothing to do with the sea, William Herbert who first realised that they are not actually lilies, called them this because of the story of a ship carrying boxes of them to Holland, which was wrecked in the seventeenth century. Bulbs washed ashore on Guernsey and established themselves there; or so the story goes, perhaps you have heard it, but it is probably apocryphal. In fact nerines were grown in England in the garden of the Cromwellian, General John Lambert in the 1650s; he acquired them from a nursery in France. At the time of the Restoration he was exiled to Guernsey and it is highly likely that he took his precious nerines with him. It was originally thought that nerines come from Japan, but in fact they all originate in South Africa. However they got there, nerines established themselves on the sand dunes of Guernsey. And they are still grown there for the flower trade . The exquisite, but tender Nerine sarniensis takes its name from the Latin name for Guernsey, Sarnia.
The flowers of Nerine sarniensis are the brightest red and in a good light they look as if they have been sprinkled with gold dust. This is a winter growing nerine , and as its leaves grow over winter it is not hardy and has to be kept in the greenhouse. It has been crossed with the hardy Nerine bowdenii to create some beautiful hybrids which are tender too, but worth growing in the greenhouse because they are so beautiful. Nerine sarniensis flowers quite early for me and has finished now. But in full bloom I have the superb Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’. This is well named because the flowers are huge and dark pink. Here it is growing in front of the ordinary Nerine bowdenii, so you can see the difference. To the left is the delicate Nerine undulata.
And here is a close up of gorgeous ‘Zeal Giant’. As you can see there is a central stripe on the petals which is delicately shaded lilac.
Another superb Bowdenii x sarniensis cross is the dark flowered Nerine ‘Mr. John’. It has a purple stripe on its dark pink petals. I have seen it listed as bowdenii, but I think this is wrong as it is not hardy.
‘Mr. John’ is just going over, but you can see what I mean about the petals shimmering with gold dust on the next close up.
Most of the bowdenii hybrids are reasonably hardy but I have found that the white ones can’t take much frost. I have three. The first to flower is Nerine bowdenii ‘Ella K’.
‘Ella K’ is finishing now but Nerine bowdenii ‘Alba’ has just come into bloom. I think the flowers of this one are a purer white. They can be tinged with pink though, so it is best to buy it in flower.
My third white nerine is still in bud. It is a new one that I bought because it is supposed to be stronger, healthier and whiter than other white ones which can suffer from virus. It is called Nerine bowdenii ‘Blanca Perla’.
The wonderful thing about nerines is the fact that some of them start flowering at the end of September and if you have several varieties you can have them in bloom until the end of dreary November. In full bloom now is one of my favourites, it is the exquisite Nerine undulata with its delicate spidery, pale pink flowers. I was given it by a friend years ago and told that it is hardy. It did live outside for a few years, but when I moved I dug it up and put it into a pot where it has grown happily for eleven years now. Nerines are great for growing in a pot because they flower well when the bulbs are overcrowded. Now I don’t want to risk this beauty outside. It has 39 blooms this year. My gardening friends keep suggesting that it is time that I repot it and share a few bulbs around. Nope. Sorry, it’s not going to happen.
My last tender nerine is actually a cross between nerine and amaryllis. No, I don’t mean the giraffe-stalked hippeastrums which are sold at Christmas as pot plants.Those are not amaryllis at all. Amaryllis can live outside in a sunny spot. I thought I had lost mine but it is fine, it flowered in September.
You can see where the amarine gets its huge flowers from. I am not going to risk my beautiful Amarine outside even in a sunny spot. It has massive flowers with a distinct stripe on them.
Nerine bowdenii is hardy in a sun baked position and does not need to be kept in the green house. The bulbs need to be planted with the top of their noses above ground. They prefer a sunny spot, preferably in a sandy soil. They don’t like competition for space. Although they like to be baked they do need watering from July onwards to make them flower well. I have ordinary Nerine bowdenii in the garden. They came from my father’s garden where they grew well and multiplied at an astonishing rate as they do here.
I have several named varieties which don’t seem much different to me. I bought ‘Marjorie’ from Plant Heritage because our Chairman, Jim Marshall introduced and named it after his late wife. It was a seedling selected at Edinburgh Botanical Garden. With all due respect to Jim, it looks very much like the other bowdenii to me.
I also have Nerine ‘Pink Triumph which is very similar .
I have two soft pale pink nerines which I think are prettier than the usual sugary pink ones. One is Nerine bowdenii ‘Pink Surprise’ which blooms at the end of September.
The other is the shell pink Nerine bowdenii ”Stefanie’.
Nerine bowdenii ‘Isabel’ is a lovely dark one.
Whilst it is great to have hardy nerines in the garden, I love going into the greenhouse on a dreary November day and finding it full of jewels. Today, it has rained all day and hardly got light. A few days ago we had awful news which made us feel that the world is falling into barbarity. When the morally bankrupt take over power it is time to be very frightened. Time to hide in the greenhouse.