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Flower farmer recommends: autumn bulbs

Catrinel Matthews of Edington Flowers gives us her top tips for autumn-flowering bulbs that can bring vibrant colour and even glamour to your flower garden at this time of year.

It is October and many flower farmers in the UK have finished their season or are about to. At Edington Flowers there is still up to a month of flowers left, provided of course we have no frost. My aim has always been to have as long a season as possible; growing autumn bulbs helps me add more variety to my floral offerings at this time of year.

An autumnal bouquet by Catrinel, brought to life by dramatic flowers from late-season bulbs.

There are three types I want to encourage you to grow, although technically only two are bulbs as the third has a rhizomatous root. Let’s talk about Nerines/Amarines first. Nerines come originally from South Africa, so they need a well-drained site where they will bake in the summer sun, and can be left undisturbed for many years. Don’t shade them with other plants or they won’t flower for you.

Amarines are a new hybrid between Nerines and Amaryllis (see photo), which give us the same unusual shape as a Nerine but with a much bigger flower, and also seem to be more floriferous. Their colours range from the usual sugary pink of Nerines to a darker pink or very light pink, and they have a very good vase life. Once you’ve made your initial investment in the bulbs, which are not cheap, as long as you give them the right conditions you should expect many years of quality blooms.

The striking flowers of an Amarine.

The next one on my must-have list is the humble Acidanthera murieliae, which used to be called Gladiolus callianthus. This also comes from South Africa, and generally is treated as an annual in the UK. In a sheltered site it will survive the winter, and can bloom again the following year, but this will only happen if you started with very good quality large bulbs in the first place, which in my experience are not easy to find in the UK. Acidanthera need a warm well-drained site, but fairly constant moisture whilst growing, and depending on when they are planted they can flower between August and mid October. The flowers are an unusual shape, white with a dark maroon blotch at the centre, providing a wonderful spike to mix with dahlias or chrysanthemums.

The pure white of Acidanthera offers a refreshing contrast to the warmer tones of autumn.

My final suggestion for you is Schizostylis, or the Kaffir lily. This is a perennial with a rhizomatous root, and one established plant will provide in excess of 20-25 flower spikes per season between September and October. The red form seems to be the most vigorous, although there are light pink and white forms as well. Schizostylis seems to do best in full sun in a very well-drained soil, and although the flowers are not big enough to stand as focal stars, they provide a very good spike contrast to the disk shaped flowers which dominate at this time of year.

The eye-catching crimson form of Schizostylis.

I hope you will give some of these a try. Not only you will have a wider range of shapes for your garden and arrangements, but you will also help bees and other insects to feed late into the season.

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