Nerines and Amarines. All you need to know about the wonderful Autumn flowering ‘Diamond Lilys’.
A colourful past
There is a fairy tale, botanical legend about the arrival of Nerines to Europe in 1659. The story goes that a box of Nerine sarniensis was cast adrift from a sinking merchant ship that was bound for Holland from South Africa. These bulbs are washed ashore on the beaches of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, where they rooted, flourished and can still be found today. However Nerines arrived in Europe, it was not until 1820 that the western world first recognised the genus Nerine with its description by the English botanist the Rev. William Herbert in his work classifying the genus Amaryllidacea. It took almost another 100 years for Nerines to appear regularly in botanical collections in Europe. Thankfully these wonderful South African bulbs are now available to us all. A relatively new and exciting development is the Amarine cultivars. These are a bigenetic hybrids between Nerine and Amaryllis belladonna and represent the best of both genus.
Nerine and Amarine are bulbous plants in the genus Amaryllidacea, a genus which also contains Amaryllis, Crinum and Clivia. They have strap like leaves arranged in two opposing rows and flower stems that can be up to 70 cm tall, depending on the species or cultivar. Flowers are held on long stems that appear as the foliage begins to die back. The hemispherical heads of wide, flared flowers are recurved and the individual petals are slightly wavy or heavily curled at the tips. Flowers can be found in a wide rage of tones from reds to pinks to pure white and all shades in-between. The flowers of Nerine are generally more delicate than those of Amaryllis or Amarines, but all are very eye catching. It’s also worth mentioning that all Nerines make excellent, long lasting cut flowers.
All of the bulbs discussed here are autumn flowering and most are hardy to half hardy.
Nerines and their relatives grow well in well drained soil in full sun, but they are somewhat anti social and loath being overshadowed by the plants. Much success can be had planting these bulbs at the base of a sunny wall. I plant most of my own collections next to the house in the gravel at the base of a south facing wall. Another favourite spot I have found is next to the south facing patio, right up against the pavers. Many people believe that planting at depth is necessary, but I favour planting with the neck of the bulb above ground, I think we get better flowering as a result. Having said that, I do cover the crowns of the bulbs with fleece in winter when very cold weather is predicted. I top dress around the bulbs in late spring with a thin layer of John Innes and a low nitrogen slow release fertiliser, I use our Agapanthus Fertiliser. A further half strength liquid feed can be applied in late august to help boost the bulbs before they flower.
Hardiness for most is good at around H5 (-10℃), however some, including the stunning Nerine sarniensis, require pot cultivation and protection of a greenhouse or similar. I grow N. sarniensis in terracotta pots in a John Innes number 3 with added grit. For pot grown bulbs, top dress in spring as described above and repot every few years.
For such spectacular flowers, Nerines and Amarines are surprisingly easy, the only real problems are slugs and snails, who love the foliage, otherwise relatively low maintenance.
Cultivar and Species Selection.
Nerine bowdenii- 50 cm tall, pale pink flowers in September/October. Hardy
Nerine Albivetta- 50/60cm tall, apple white flowers in October .Hardy to Half hardy
Nerine bowdenii Alba- 60cm tall, ice white flowers in September . Hardy
Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’- 70cm tall, dark cerise flowers in September. Hardy
Nerine sarniensis var. corusca 'Major'- 50cm tall red flowers in September. Half hardy
Nerine bowdenii ‘Isabel’-50cm tall dark rose-pink flowers in September. Hardy
Nerine bowdenii Stephanie- 60cm tall creamy white delicate flowers. Hardy
Amarine tubergenii ‘Zwanenburg’- 50cm tall vibrant dark pink flowers. Hardy
Amarine Belladiva- 40/50cm tall bold pink flowers (very free flowering). Hardy
Amaryllis belladonna-60cm tall large pale pink to apple pink flowers. Hardy
Most of the above are available from our on line shop as bare root bulbs in spring and as potted bulbs from late summer.