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Nerines at Wisley – December 2023

December 21, 2023
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As I’m still learning how to use the AGS site and WordPress process, I thought I’d take another look back at many Nerines that have graced the Alpine Display House this autumn. The first blooms of the season appeared in mid-August and the last in mid-November, a full three months.

The genus was named by Rev William Herbert in 1820. It is believed he named them after the Greek sea nymph Nerine, daughter of the Sea God Nereis, or possibly Nereide, daughter of Nereus, the Greek god of the Oceans.

Nerine bowdenii

I’ve grown Nerine bowdenii in my own garden; this is a much larger species than the frost tender ones that are kept in the South African House at Wisley. There are a number of clumps of Nerine bowdenii around the rest of the garden at Wisley, but all the Rock and Alpine plants are kept under glass.

The specific epithet was chosen to honour Athelstan H Cornish – Bowden (1871 – 1942) who collected some plants in 1898. He was the Surveyor-General of the Cape Colony. This Nerine is found growing in mountain screes in South Africa but the precise location of the 1898 collection was not recorded. You don’t hear of many little Athelstan’s these days, I think I’ll start a petition.

Glasshouse conditions

The greenhouse at Wisley is kept frost free with a minimum temperature of 5°C. There is shading available in the South African house but it is not needed for the autumn flowering species. The foliage only appears in the autumn and has died back before the summer sun can do any damage.

Watering regime

The plants will flower well if they have been stressed over the summer months. This means withholding watering and allowing the foliage to die back. For the autumn-flowering species watering commences in late August to early September, after the bulbs have been re-potted in June / July. Rain water is collected from the roof of the Revero green house for plants in the collection.

Autumn flowers in the Alpine Display House at Wisley

Growing medium

The potting mixture is peat-free John Innes No.2 with sharp grit (50:50). The necks of the bulbs are kept just above the rim of the pots and the pots are dressed with grit. The bulbs are grown in clay pots and plunged. The plants are kept just moist through the growing season and watering adjusted depending on the winter temperatures outside, humidity, ventilation and sunlight (solar gain).

Pest control

The collection has been generally pest free in the past but woolly aphids have been an issue for the last couple of years. The bulbs have been cleaned and treated with SB Invigorator, if any were found present at re-potting. The bulbs are submerged for 20 minutes to kill off the aphids and their eggs.

House keeping

At the end of the flowering season (November / December) the spent flowers, flower stems and any developing seeds are removed to prevent botrytis mould from developing. This also prevents the plants seeding into the plunge or other surrounding pots.

Here is a selection of the plants that were on display this year. I’ve not shown them all. The ones that have been excluded will be featured next year. You can have too much of a good thing even one that has as much charm as a Nerine.

Nerine masoniorum

Marianne Mason collected this plant in 1920, at Umtata in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It is only found in one location which is now threatened by development.(photographed on 19 August 2023).

Nerine masoniorum

Nerine masoniorum

Nerine filifolia

Found in the summer rainfall area of the East Cape, Free State and Swaziland. It can be evergreen in cultivation but needs summer rest to get it to flower. The specific epithet is from the Latin – fili ~ threadlike & folia ~ leaved (photographed 16 October 2023).

Nerine angustifolia

Nerine angustifolia is one of the evergreen species (in its native habitat) that hails from the summer rainfall areas of Swaziland and Lesotho in South Africa. The specific epithet comes from the Latin – angusti ~ narrow, and folia ~ leaved (photographed 16 October 2023).

Nerine angustifolia

Nerine angustifolia

Nerine humilis Peersii Group from Toorwaterpoort

This used to be a separate species as it had more crisped perianth segments and scarcely glaucous leaves, thought to be different from N. humilis. It was collected by V.S Peers (1874 – 1940) an Australian who collected this species in August 1925. (photographed 2 October 2023).

Nerine humilis Peersii Group

Nerine sarniensis ‘Betty’s Bay’

The specific epithet, sarniensis, comes from the latin for Guernsey – Sarnia was the old name of the island of Guernsey.

Betty’s came from the Botanic Garden that Harold Porter left to the South African Nation, at the town of Betty’s Bay near Overberg. Harold had a particular fondness for nerines. There is a nice almost gold fleck in the colour of the petals that glisten in the sun, a feature I was trying to capture in the picture.

Nerine sarniensis Betty's Bay

Nerine sarniensis 'Betty's Bay'

Harold Porter was cremated and it was claimed his final wish was that his ashes were spread over his beloved Nerines. I’ve used blood, fish and bone fertilizer before but I’m not that keen.  I’m not sure if his final wishes were actually carried out.

Nerine humilis Breachiae Group

This plant was given species rank in the past but has now been moved into N. humilis. It comes from the southwest Cape. The leaves appear as the flowers fade and lie flat on the ground. Originally it was named for a Mr. W. Breach. Some of the confusion with the different species was due to larger plants in the east that have longer, broader leaves and taller flower spikes. According to DNA studies these are included in the same species, a technique not available 100 years ago!

Nerine humilis Breachiae Group

Nerine humilis Breachiae Group

Nerine humilis from Du Toitskloof

These plants were collected from Du Toit’s Gap in the Western Cape Province (photographed 16 October 2023).

Nerine humilis from Du Toitskloof S.A.

Nerine humilis from Du Toitskloof S.A

Nerine x haylockii

The final species in this diary entry, a hybrid between N. sarniensis x humilis. I believe it was named for Matthew Haylock, a 19th Century gardener (photographed 27 September 2023).