I mentioned some fancy, tender nerines the other week, variants of the splendid N. sarniensis. But it would be wrong to ignore the common but spectacular crowd pleaser that is N. bowdenii. You can’t miss this right now because it is the plant that produces those shocking pink clumps of colour that seem to incongruous in the garden landscape.
Nerine bowdenii is, like 20 of the 24 accepted species, native to South Africa (the other 4 are African) and was named after Athelstan Hall Cornish-Bowden who sent bulbs back to England in 1899. It is native to East Cape Province, Free State and KwaZulu – Natal and is the hardiest of the species grown in the UK due to it being a summer-growing plant. Because of this it requires, and gets in the UK and Ireland, summer moisture though it does need a sunny spot and is at its best when the bulbs get crowded and start to push themselves out of the ground. It increases readily by offsets and although it frequently sets seeds these are very slow to produce flowering size bulbs, generally at least six years.You can probably find plants in pots for sale now and this is probably the best way to plant them, and you get instant colour. But you can also buy them in spring, just as they are making new foliage and this is the most common way to buy them. Plant them in well drained soil in full sun with the tips of the bulbs just above the surface. If you don’t fancy looking at just the green foliage in summer or the flowers coming up from bare soil you need to find a companion that will not shade the bulbs too much and that also likes heat and sun and small lavenders, a creeping rosemary or an ornamental thyme would be perfect but be aware that the dying foliage of the nerine in late summer will need to be pulled away or it might smother a delicate companion.
Perhaps surprisingly, Nerines, and I guess N. bowdenii, can be hybridised with Amaryllis belladonna, which flowers at the same time, and the resulting plants, with flowers midway between the two, are called amarine.
Nerine bowdenii is one of those rare cases where the easiest species to grow is also one of the most spectacular. The flowers and the flower heads are much larger than N. sarniensis and the colour is simply remarkable. We usually appreciate the flowers of plants that bloom at odd times of the year but have to prefix praise with ‘although we would hardly notice them in the height of summer’ but that can hardly be said of this nerine which could hold its own at any time of year!
8/10 – just a green clump in summer