Kitty de Jong owns a wholesale production nursery and breeding centre in the Netherlands, specialising in nerines and amarines. The South African nerine bulbs flower later than tulips, daffodils and alliums, so provide a pop of colour to dull autumn days.
Breeding nerines takes patience. Thousands of seeds are sown and the plants are grown for three to four years before a flower is formed. Producing enough bulbs to sell to gardeners is equally laborious. As a grower, Kitty is fascinated by the botany of the plant.
“If you cut a bulb of Nerine bowedenii in half you can see two or even three embryonic flower buds,” she says. These develop sequentially, starting with the largest bud, over the forthcoming years. “I think this is the only bulbous plant that has this. It means there are several years’ flowers inside a single bulb. This adds to the magic.”
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Here Kitty shares her advice for cultivating nerines and amarines so you can ensure their longevity.
How to plant nerines
Nerine bowdenii and amarines are hardy in sunny situations in well-drained soil. To flower well the bulbs need to be baked during the summer, so avoid planting them where they will be overshadowed by other plants. Plant the bulbs just below the surface of the soil in large clumps. In cold areas mulch them after they have finished flowering to give extra protection during wet and cold winters.
During the first year after planting, nerines can be shy to flower. Be patient: as soon as they have settled in they should produce lots of flowers. The bulbs hate being disturbed, so once you have planted them avoid moving the bulbs until they are so congested that they stop flowering.
Nerines and amarines love pots and, if you live in a cold and wet region, this is the best way to grow them. Use a loam-based compost with about 20 per cent horticultural grit and plant the bulbs with their noses peeking above the surface of the soil. Water lots when the plant starts into growth but keep dry when finished flowering and store away from frosts. Bulbs flower best crowded tightly together, so don’t be too eager to split the bulbs – once every four or five years is sufficient.
Kitty’s favourite nerines and amarines
x Amarine tubergenii ‘Aphrodite’ (Belladiva Series)
Each of the amarine stems can produce up to ten rose-pink flowers between August and October. The foliage is semi-evergreen and able to withstand up to -5°C of frost.
50cm. RHS H4, USDA 8b-9a.
Nerine bowdenii ‘Vesta K’
A popular cultivar in the cut flower industry, the nerine’s flowers are a soft-pink colour with slightly twisting petals. The flowers are about 20cm wide.
60cm. RHS H5, USDA 7b-8a.
Nerine bowdenii ‘Athena’
There are several nerine cultivars with white flowers but for Kitty this one is by far the best. It is a vigorous plant that reaches its peak in October, and the flowers are a sparkling, clean shade of white.
50cm. RHS H5, USDA 7b-8a.
A floriferous and long-flowering hybrid that will be available to buy in the near future. The salmon-pink flowers are much larger than the species and have a silvery sheen. Kitty considers this to be one of the most beautiful of the nerines she grows.
50cm. RHS H5, USDA 7b-8a.
Other excellent nerines
A pretty autumn-flowering bulb that thrives in free-draining soil in full sun. Produces spider-like flowers with wavy edges held atop strong stems. From South Africa.
30cm. AGM. RHS H2.
Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’
The quality of hardiness in nerines depends on winter dormancy and leafing from spring to autumn (rather than over winter). These characteristics are evident in Nerine bowdenii but whatever cultivar you grow, its flowers are samey.
The late Terry Jones crossed Nerine bowdenii with the enriched colours of the winter-leafing and tender Nerine sarniensis, aiming for richer colours and hardiness. He famously selected this hardy hybrid, which has huge flowers on long stems.
Height 75cm x 15cm from a single bulb but clumps up. AGM. Origins A hybrid of South African species. Conditions Plant them anywhere (in sun) where they will not be crowded. Season October to November.