Friday 29 October 2010

Not only pink, part 4: Nerine hybrids

Nerine Zeal Hybrid C
Given the wonderful range of colours found in the Nerine sarniensis hybrids and the limited palette of pinks and a few whites in N. bowdenii, it is not surprising that breeders have long wished to see a combination of 'colour' and hardiness. As the two species, despite their very different annual cycles, flower at about the same time it is quite easy to dab pollen between them, and occasionally a hybrid seed is set. This process is not quite as easy as it may seem, as the two are not very compatible, and there are often differences in chromosome number between clones that prevent fertilization occurring.

Nerine 'Zeal Giant'

The most successful breeder of hardy hybrids to date has been the late Terry Jones, who conducted a decades-long breeding programme at his home in Zeal Monachorum in Devon. His best known selection is the enormous 'Zeal Giant' (right), now quite freely available. It produces large, bright reddish pink flowers on robust stems at least 60 cm tall and is a really impressive plant in full flower. It is hardy in mild gardens in southern England, but was killed here in an ordinary winter. Two other selections distributed by Terry Jones are relatively well-known, 'Zeal Salmon' and 'Zeal Grilse'. They certainly add a new set of colours to the palette, with the salmon shades being especially distinct.

Terry Jones died a few years ago, and bequeathed his breeding stock and the stud books to Matt Bishop at the Garden House, Buckland Monachorum (these Devon monks got around). Matt has distributed some material, either under letters,  as in the case of 'C' (at top), or with descriptive names, as in the case of 'Zeal Purple Stripe' (below). He has also continued the breeding programme, with his aims being to reduce the bluish tinge seen in the flowers as they mature and fade and to continue to seek for genuine hardiness. The best indicator for this is dormancy in winter, inherited from the N. bowdenii parent: most of the Zeal Hybrids are more less winter-dormant but try to have a few active leaves. Their success depends on whether a spring flush replaces those produced in autumn and thus permits the bulb to fatten up: if not, it will dwindle away. So far, most are not available in sufficient quantities for hardiness testing on a wide scale, but indications are that many will survive where winters are not too severe.
Nerine 'Zeal Purple Stripe' - a reference to the stripe that develops down the centre of each 'petal' as the flower matures.
Others have also tried their hand at breeding hybrids, but have not always selected for hardiness. 'Afterglow', illustrated below, is also Nerine sarniensis x bowdenii and has inherited the true N. sarniensis colour that is so sought after, to make a true break from pink. It is winter-growing, however, and is therefore not hardy.

Nerine 'Afterglow'

Other combinations of parents have given offspring, notably N. bowdenii x N. undulata ("flexuosa" forms), but these tend to be very late flowering and of limited garden value, and there are bigeneric hybrids with Amaryllis belladonna, known as the hybrid genus xAmarine.

For those interested in the genus Nerine and its relatives, The Nerine and Amaryllid Society is a small but dynamic society, with a journal produced three times per year, a bulb exchange, and visits to gardens and nurseries during the flowering season. The AGM, get-together, and series of talks will be held tomorrow at Holton Village Hall, near Oxford. The society's website provides more information, but not everything:  prospective members should contact the Secretary for information on subscription rates.


  1. Wow - the Nerine "Afterglow" is stunning! Would it overwinter in a coldframe I wonder.....

  2. Probably, if more or less frost-free.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.