IF you’re feeling a bit glum about the end of summer and the onset of autumn, then it’s a good idea to make room in your garden for plants that are just coming into their own now. While prairie-style perennials and grasses grab a lot of attention, plants classed as autumn-flowering bulbs are worth growing, too, and some of the best for long-flowering bursts of colour are exotic and elegant hesperantha.
A member of the iris family, hesperantha grow from a rhizome (a swollen, creeping root) rather than a true bulb. They’re mostly native to South Africa where they thrive in regions with wet, warm summers and cold, dry winters.
These plants provide vertical interest at the front of a border, forming good-sized clumps of semi-evergreen, straplike foliage from which slender flower spikes emerge around the end of August to reveal star-like flowers. These come in various shades of pink, scarlet or white, depending on the variety or cultivar, and if the weather’s mild the flowers will keep on coming right through to Christmas.
Surviving most British winters
Hesperantha can withstand temperatures down to between -5°C and -10°C, surviving most British winters, but in cold locations they’ll benefit from a dry mulch of chipped bark mounded over the plant to help excess water drain away and to provide insulation during prolonged cold spells. They can also be grown in large containers, which means they can be moved under cover when the weather turns cold. This will help to prolong the flowering period and protect the blooms from the wind, rain and frost.
The willowy stems of hesperantha also make long-lasting cut flowers. In fact, they provided an additional crop for daffodil growers in Cornwall at the turn of the 20th century, and they’re still grown on flower farms in the county.
Plant in small groups
You can plant the rhizomes in spring, but for instant colour now buy ready-potted ones that will be available at garden centres. Because it will take a couple of years for hesperantha to get established it’s worth planting them in small groups, otherwise they can initially look underwhelming when surrounded by more mature plants.
Where to buy*
Burncoose Nurseries burncoose.co.uk 01209 860316
Farmyard Nurseries farmyardnurseries.co.uk 01559 363389
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