Kitchen Garden Beauties

You might think that the title of this blog may refer to Donna and her team of lovely Kitchen Garden volunteers?! But no. After last week’s post about some of the Autumn interest around the gardens here at Chartwell recently I thought I’d continue the theme by pointing you in the direction of a trio of horticultural stunners that have just decided to show their stuff in the walled Kitchen Garden. They can all be found virtually next to each other (which only improves the effect!) along the south facing wall just inside the main entrance so you really shouldn’t have any excuse not to cast your eyes over them the next time you pop in and see us…

Nerine bowdenii

Also sometimes known as the Bowden Cornish Lily but originally from South Africa, this stunning Nerine is in fine fettle once again this year. From the Amaryllidaceae family, this bulbous perennial gives us a perfect pink display every year without fail. All Nerines are dormant in Summer but come Autumn they are excellent value as long as you can offer them the right conditions. They love to be baked in full sun if possible in a sheltered south-facing site. Although they can tolerate acidic, alkaline or neutral soil and don’t necessarily mind whether it is clay, chalk, sand or loam-based, they do like it to be well draining. The border that ours are in is slightly sloped which improves the drainage even more.

Look, even the bees love it!

The long-lasting flowers are borne on stems that won’t reach much higher than half a metre. The RHS, who awarded this plant an AGM award, recommend covering with a dry mulch in Winter. We have chosen a thin covering of wood chips for ours. Most Nerines are quite tender and are generally best kept in greenhouses but N. bowdenii is the nearest to fully hardy that there is especially in the warmer south east where Churchill chose to make his family home.

Bonus fact: Nerines were so named after the sea nymphs of Greek mythology!

Schizostylis coccinea f. Alba

This white Kaffir Lily (also sometimes known as River Lily or White Flag Lily) has actually recently had its name changed to Hesperantha coccinea but you will still find it listed in most places at Schizostylis. Also originally from South Africa, this hardy herbaceous perennial perhaps deserves a little more recognition for its ability to provide plenty of Autumn colour even when the weather is wet and miserable. Another lover of full sun, the roots of this plant prefer their soil to be slightly moister but still well drained so they are not sat in wet conditions for too long. We don’t water ours artificially as the British weather seems to do a decent enough job without our help!

The flowers of Schizostylis, the stems of which can reach 60cm in height, are often used as cut flowers but as we have such a large selection of purpose-planted cut flowers within the walled garden, we prefer to leave these blooms for our visitors to enjoy. If the clumps get too congested then we will lift and divide them every three years or so. If this Schizostylis is the filling in our floral sandwich, the other slice of horticultural bread is…

Amaryllis belladonna

Yet another South African native, this bulbous perennial is commonly known as the Jersey Lily, Belladonna Lily or more interestingly, Naked Ladies! So if you hear us talking about Naked Ladies in our Kitchen Garden, don’t get too excited! Incidentally, they are sometimes called this because the gorgeous flowers appear before the foliage develops. In the wild, by losing its leaves and becoming dormant in the height of the Summer, the Amaryllis conserves precious resources and avoids unnecessary stress. Historically Amaryllis was a comely shepherdess, celebrated in classical literature by Ovid, Theocritus and Virgil. Belladonna simply means beautiful lady and these blooms certainly fit that description. Even the scent of this plant is very heady, making it perhaps one of the sexiest plants in the garden right now!

The attractive deep purple stems vie for attention with the flowers themselves…

Enjoying very similar conditions to the Nerines, it is interesting to note that it is possible to obtain an inter-genus hybrid between Amaryllis and Nerine. It is called a x Amarine, although the end result actually just resembles a larger Nerine. Like the Nerine, Amaryllis belladonna is also poisonous, even the pretty seeds. It contains lycorine, the same toxin as is found in Narcissus. Lycorine, if taken in sufficient quantities, can cause death by a paralysis of the nervous system! If you are planting your own Amaryllis, make sure you leave the neck of the bulb just above the soil surface. Although it is said that it might not be hardy below -5, we have not had any problems with our hardy specimens.

That just about concludes our second Autumn-themed blog post within the last two weeks, but I thought I would leave you with a poem by Dino Campana (1885 – 1932), simply titled ‘Autumn Garden’…

To the spectral garden to the mute laurel

of green garlands,

to the autumnal land

a last salute.

On the arid slopes

harsh, reddened by the last rays

a confusion of hoarse

sound cries distant life:

cries to the dying sun

that stains the borders.

A fanfare is heard

rising stridently: the river vanishes

into golden sands: in silence

the white statues stand facing

the bridgehead: and already things ‘no longer are.’

And from the deep silence a chorus

rises, tender and magnificent,

yearningly towards my balcony;

and with the fragrance of laurel

piercing and languorous,

amongst the immortal sunset statues

she is present there.

Jamie

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