In pink with blooming fine display of nerines

Here we are, autumn is here and the light has become soft and kind, toning down even the harshest of colours.

In the garden here at East Ruston Old Vicarage Nerine Zeal Giant is looking ravishing, her stridently screeching, Schiaparelli pink blooms glowing across the garden.

What a good plant this is, for in the world of nerines it is indeed a giant, but like all the rest of the hardy nerines, it loves to have its bulbs baked by the sun. They do not need deep planting.

In fact, if you plant them deep the bulbs will haul themselves up to the surface so that they can sunbathe.

Over time these will form large colonies but only divide them when their flowering decreases for they love living life cheek-by-jowl – rather like snowdrops.


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Pink-flowering nerines of whichever kind look stunning planted with autumn-flowering asters, ideally two new varieties, both low-growing and named after islands in the South Pacific – Samoa which is reddish-purple and Tonga which is rosy-mauve.

Both of these, along with some 54 different varieties of aster, are offered by Cotswold Garden Flowers – telephone 01386 422829 for a catalogue or visit the website at www.cgf.net.

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Remember that most perennial asters are generous plants and need frequent division so you will only need to buy one plant of each.

Over the years we have collected several varieties of nerines but not all of these exotic beauties are hardy. Those that are hardy are mainly in shades of pink from the shrieking Zeal Giant to the soft pink of Stephanie with several shades in between. There is even a variety with white blooms, although these often have a tinge of pink on them. We have some tender ones with glowing red flowers that really light up the glass house in late summer.

There are lots to choose from, in fact, Bob Brown at Cotswold Garden Flowers offers more than 50 tender varieties so the choice is yours.

As pot subjects they are very easy, provided their bulbs get a summer baking which is easy under glass. We turn the pots on their sides facing the sun and leave them basking until in late summer we see renewed signs of growth, then they can be stood upright, watered gently and their flowers enjoyed after which they must be kept frost-free until their foliage dies down.

One of the great joys of autumn is without doubt colchicums. When I was a boy these were referred to as 'naked ladies' by my grandfather and 'naked boys' by my grandmother! The reason for this is that they produce their flowers in the autumn before their foliage and most of them closely resemble crocus, especially to the untrained eye.

Many gardeners regard these late-flowering lovelies with disdain because their foliage can be rather unexpectedly large.

In a small garden this may be a problem but as Richard Hobbs, who is a grower and purveyor of many rare and interesting bulbs, tells me, visitors to his garden often ask about their beautiful foliage.

On the varieties that I grow, I find the foliage quite joyous for, although it is large, it is a deep lustrous, light-reflecting green that has about it an architectural feel. On the downside, it dies in late June and early July, so for a brief period looks a little dishevelled but we do not wait until it looks too dead before whisking it away so that order is restored to our borders once more.

One of the best ways of growing colchicums is in gravel. Beth Chatto has masses of them in her gravel garden and at this time of the year they look so fresh and vibrant, I was there last year and the sight of them made me feel resigned to grow more of them.

Well, now we shall for we have been asked to have the national collection of colchicums in the garden here and have already designated an area for this. Unfortunately, as they all appear to be rather early into growth this year, planting will not take place until July 2012 but that is a blessing in disguise, for it allows us to make quite sure that the ground is completely free of any pernicious, perennial weeds.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a rather curious kniphofia called hen and chickens. The reason for it being so named is that surrounding the fat, cylindrical head of creamy white flowers that open from apricot buds, up to eight smaller, secondary heads appear but, this only happens when the plant is growing in good conditions.

I am very glad to report that our plant is indeed multi-headed and can be seen in the planting alongside our new entrance to the garden, although our best is one central 'hen' surrounded by four 'chickens'!

This plant is a seedling from kniphofia northiae which is one of my all-time favourite kniphofias and quite rightly has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

We do not grow this one for its flowers, which are stumpy coral and cream pokers born between April and June. Instead we grow it for the fantastic foliage which is very wide and long, the greyish leaves are keelless and the whole plant needs space for it is very large and very architectural. It resembles a huge hardy aloe and brings a touch of exoticism to any garden scheme.

•This article was first published on September 24, 2011.

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