October is a month festooned by spiders' webs and in this mellowest time of year the garden can seem suspended between the seasons. A typical day can start as winter, proceed to a summer's afternoon before slipping into a cool autumn evening. These conditions suit Schizostylis coccinea'Major' beautifully. The copper red flowers start the day weighed down by dewdrops before opening to face the midday sun.
By evening the flowers close and nod again like a ballerina taking an encore. This sequence is repeated over several weeks. These South African flowers, members of the Iris family, are commonly known as Kaffir lilies. They grow naturally in wetter parts on the eastern side of the Cape, in stream beds and cliff edges, where summers are warm and wet and winters cold and dry. They also seem to love our Irish climate too, as they need moisture to flower well. They are the best in a mixed border. I find they are wonderful with hydrangeas, ferns and autumn crocus. The pink varieties are great planted with Agapanthus. With this combination you will have colour from mid-summer through the winter.
In South Africa, schizostylis keeps its linear grass-green leaves throughout the year. But in most gardens, schizostylis dies back and then reappears in late spring, so marking its position is a good idea. It is very hardy and has withstood even the worst of winters!
Schizostylis is slow growing and takes many years to produce lots of flower spikes. But it's worth the wait. Once established, each stem will produce between six and 12 flowers or more.
There are many forms of Schizostylis coccinea. The copper-red 'Major' is the most readily available and a very good performer. There is a pure white form, 'Alba', which has narrower petals and seems to flower later for me. The two best varieties are Pink Princess and Finland Daybreak.