Some plants are full of surprises and I can never quite get over how delicate and beautiful the flowers of Hesperantha coccinea seem as they open at a time when the weather is anything but gentle. This is not one of the best known plants and is even less familiar with its new name – it is better known as Schizostylis. Most hesperantha are cormous but this species is rhizomatous – surely a reason to keep it separate, but I am no botanist.
Like so many of our popular garden plants, this one hails from South Africa, at high altitudes in eastern Cape Province and Natal. The high altitude may account for its hardiness bu it still seems odd that such large and beautiful flowers open when the weather is such that surely no seeds could ever be produced. Maybe that is why it is rhizomatous and spreads so well by vegetative means. You may also find small cormlets on the old flower stems that can be removed and grown on.
In the wild it is always found along rivers and in the garden it needs moist soil. If grown in dry soils it gradually fades away. But in moist soil, ideally rich in organic matter, this is an easy plant to grow and will bloom profusely in October and November and maybe a lot earlier and a bit later too. The tricky bit is that, although it needs moist soil, it must have full sun too in order to bloom well.
The foliage is narrow and like a skinny gladiolus and the flower stems generally reach about 40cm though this can vary according to soil moisture and variety. This is the common, red form but the majority are shades of pink and they vary a lot in size so buy them in bloom – in your garden centre now.
As well as looking good in the garden it makes a useful cut flower too, lasting well in water.
This plant was growing in a flower bed in a car park in Omeath, Co Louth last weekend.
7/10 – needs moist soil
Macro Monday answer
This hardy annual is Chrysanthemum carinatum, easily grown from seed and a good cut flower in a wonderful range of colours