Bright spark: As autumn approaches there is one firework of a flower that really catches the eye


A little curling fountain of pink firework sparks, each flower head is made up of a studded set of tinier flowers, a bit like a Barbie-toned Agapanthus. There are only a few floral highlights at this time of year, but among them are the prettiest, frilliest and slightly pink-spidery of early autumn treats, the Nerines. The name sounds mythological, but it turns out nobody's really sure. Apparently it was a cheeky Regency vicar, the Rev William Herbert, who coined the name, possibly just out of his wonderful head.

But really the greatest thing about them is when they flower – right now, on soft, foggy mornings when everyone else is getting out the leaf blower. There are 30 or so species in the wild, but horticulturalists have been working hard since the plants were first imported from South Africa to widen the range ever more expansively.

There are two broad divisions: first, the ones that can just about stand a British winter outdoors. Nerine bowdenii is a favourite, especially in the West Country (it was the appropriately monikered Cornish Bowden who first brought them to the UK in 1903). But for much greater, naughtier, pinker variety, have a look at the indoor, tender species, the star of which is Nerine sarniensis.

I was reminded of the breadth of possibility on Planet Nerine while flicking through a new book, Clondeglass, by Eire's favourite gardener and RTE staple, Dermot O'Neill (£25, Kyle). The book is a record of O'Neill's eponymous garden, which is a decade-long work of restoration, but it focuses very much on the things he actually grows, plantsman-style, with quite a few pages devoted to this spectacular October flower.

O'Neill's passion for Nerines predates Clondeglass: "I went on a trip with my father to look for interesting plants that were not available in Ireland at the time. On my travels, I came across some exciting old Irish cultivars of Nerine." This rediscovery of traditional Irish varieties is something of a theme for O'Neill, who enthuses about an older generation of Eire plant breeders. He cites the wonderfully named Miss Doris Findlater, who spent the late 1950s and early 1960s breeding such also-wonderfully-named Nerines as "Glensavage Gem" and "The Spider".

As far as O'Neill's collection goes, I'm most tempted by a tender Nerine in deep, velvety damson, called "Uganda", although I think I could also be swayed by "Brighton Rock". However, then we get to the annoying bit: these more unusual Nerines are practically impossible to buy. Beth Chatto has a small range, stocking at planting time outdoor N.bowdenii as well as N.undulata, a white floaty thing (both £4.20,

But for N.sarniensis varieties, you may have to go on the rampage. Either that or join a specialist society: the Nerine & Amaryllid Society charges £12 annual membership, and has regular meetings, and it was through its website that I found my way to, which lists for sale a number of the varieties grown at Exbury Gardens, Hampshire, from the Rothschild collection. They ain't cheap: a "Starter Collection" of 10 varieties is £70. And "Uganda" comes at a princely (though still tempting) £18.50 per bulb.

Getting hold of them, though, is just the first stage. Tender Nerines require specialist care. At Clondeglass, Dermot O'Neill has a perfect little greenhouse constructed just for these tender-hearted African immigrants. Painted in an elegant grey-greenish-blue, it sets off the range of pinks spectacularly well.

Quite apart from tasteful colours to paint your greenhouse, O'Neill has advice on more practical matters. Let leaves and flower stems die back naturally, to allow the bulb to gather back in all their goodness. Feed them, when in full growth, with an organic tomato fertiliser. And never leave them sitting around in water. These bulbs need sharp drainage and plenty of sunshine or they will simply rot away.

There is one more trick you need to know to get flowers from an indoor Nerine: they require a proper dry season, starting in April, giving just enough water to keep the roots alive, through till September, when weekly watering should recommence. Expect flowers a few weeks later, bursting forth without a leaf in sight. A rare delight indeed.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?