Nerine bowdenii is a breathtaking plant, especially on a dull autumn day.
With its tall scapes, terminated by a loose umbel of five to 10 trumpet-shaped, shocking-pink flowers, it must surely be the most exotic autumn-flowering bulb. Each flower has six narrow perianths with flamboyant wavy edges, which in certain lights appear to have been sprinkled with gold. And their faint musky scent carries on the autumn breeze. It flowers outdoors from August to early November, depending on temperature and site, with stems 30cm-50cm (12in-20in) tall. The flowers are long-lasting in the garden and keep going when cut for indoor decoration. The strap-like leaves emerge after flowering and survive the winter undamaged.
Nerines are native to South Africa and can withstand freezing temperatures, as low as -15C.
Nerine bowdenii is a floral firework — a welcome flash of colour as the temperature drops and the days get shorter — that will brighten any garden.
Opinion is divided about planting depth; some say that you need 6cm (2in) of soil above the bulb to protect from frost damage, others prefer the bulbs to half-emerge from the soil. A clump in my garden has flourished and multiplied for more than 20 years almost at the soil surface. Once planted, try not to disturb them — they like to grow in a dense clump. Don't worry if the flowering is poor in the first year after planting, just be patient.
Nerines grow best in very poor soil. Plants grown in richer soil grow bigger with more leaves, but at the expense of flowers. A well-drained coarse, sandy soil, low in nitrogen, is recommended for a maximum number of iridescent blooms.
Kaffir Lilies and Cyclamen complement the height of the nerine flowers, provide a similarly coloured understorey and extend the period of interest in that part of the garden.
If the nerines are at the base of a south-facing wall, a star jasmine, such as Trachelospermum jasminioides, could provide long-term interest if planted between the nerines and the wall.
Star jasmine is an evergreen woody climber with glossy dark-green leaves that produces fragrant creamy-white flowers in mid to late summer, followed by long seed pods. In a cottage garden, nerines are sufficiently tall and bold to be added to a mixed border.