Monday, October 1, 2012

Schizostylis - bright autumn blooms

I have a soft spot for bright autumn flowers, those that begin their display as all else is winding down.  They defy the gathering gloom as nights draw in and the days become shorter.  The Kaffir lily, Schizostylis coccinea, is a great example.  Hardy, reliable, showy and often capable of flowering till Christmas and even beyond once established it's become a firm favourite in the garden.  I've always had the bright red S.coccinea 'Major' but in recent years I've begun to collect a few other varieties to provide bright spots of colour from this South African iris relative.  And now they've begun their display.
Schizostylis coccinea 'Major'
They don't ask for much.  A sunny site, decent, humus rich soil and moisture.  In the wild they grow by the side of streams and ponds.  In cultivation they will thrive in slightly drier - but not drought ridden - conditions in the open border.  The more summer moisture they have the earlier they tend to flower though there is some natural variation among the different cultivars.

Colours range from deep red, through varying shades of coral and pink to almost white.  I say almost.  I used to grow a small flowered variety, S.c.'Alba' which was pure white.  It was also rather miffy and refused to flourish.  I no longer have it.  I now have another variety, also labelled as 'Alba' which has rather larger flowers and is more likely to be a sport of one of the larger flowered garden varieties than a white flowered variant of the species.  At a distance it is white but moving closer reveals a delicate hint of pink.  Thankfully it seems a lot more robust than it's long lost cousin.
Schizostylis coccinea 'Alba'
Mind you, if it's pure unadulterated pink you want you can't go wrong with 'Mrs Hegarty'.  This one really shines in the softer light of September and October.  Equally as vigorous, like the others the 4cm flowers open in sun and close again when cloud or darkness rolls in.

Schizostylis coccinea 'Mrs Hegarty'
Those three all produce good clumps of thin, rushy leaves, flaunting their flowers at about the 45cm / 18in level on stout stalks with a terminal set of buds that open progressively as the season develops.  In a well established clump during a mild autumn new flower stalks will be thrown up to replace those that have faded, prolonging the season very effectively.

I'm hoping I get the same vigour from another variety I've recently acquired.  'Fenland Daybreak' is a subtler coral shade than the blatant pink of 'Mrs Hegarty' or the bright red of 'Major' but, to my eyes, it's equally attractive and fits in well with the other tones of autumn.

Schizostylis coccinea 'Fenland Daybreak'
Hardiness is certainly not a problem down here in Plymouth - even when we get a poor winter.  I've seen the plants advocated for USDA Zone 7 and above, capable of resisting -15C, a temperature that even typing makes me shiver. If we ever get that low the glaciers will be heading down from Dartmoor.  So no problem for most areas of the UK and similar climates elsewhere.  They're not bulbs though, so no lifting and drying out for winter storage.  Protect them in situ or grow in containers that can be moved under cover and they will do fine even if your winters are significantly colder than mine.

I've a few more to collect before I'm finished.  There's a nice rose-pink, 'Sunrise', another good pink in the shape of 'Viscountess Byng' and some interesting looking paler forms that could well find a place in the garden.  Though I might have to remove some other plants to fit them in.

One final word.  They are now called Hesperantha coccinea after a botanical reclassification of that section of the Iris family.  Nurseries take time to catch up with re-naming which is why I've used the old botanical name throughout the post.

1 comment:

  1. Nice selection of Kaffir lilies there. Such a fantastic group of plants, and I find them easy to cultivate too.