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The family connections

Among the many reasons we grow particular plants are the family connections they have. My mother-in-law grew a local dwarf gladiolus that she called ‘Aileen’, because her sister gave it to her. My grandmother treasured a deciduous azalea because her son gave it to her with money from the first pay packet he received.

That uncle of mine had a very unusual name, one that I have only ever seen associated with my Wallis ancestors, and restricted to the Whitstable area of Kent. He was called Crinis, and he later became an avid [actually obsessive might be a better word] camellia grower, but in my head, he is connected to a totally different plant.

My mother grew a large bulb with evergreen leaves in her moist Lansdowne soil. Each summer it would put up stems of light pink flowers, very similar to the naked ladies, Amaryllis belladonna, to which it is related and which is much more commonly grown.

In my memory, when I asked her what it was, she told me it was a “Crinis”. I assumed it was a plant she had been given by her horticulturally generous brother, but it was a case of my mishearing what she had said. The plant was a Crinum, specifically the species called C. moorei.

We have this in our current garden, growing in a shady spot behind the foaming towers of meadow rue, Thalictrum. The large evergreen leaves which, truth to tell, are not that attractive, are hidden behind other foliage, and when the flower spikes, which are about 1.5 metres high, pop up at this time of the year, they look very imposing.

Each stem carries several flowers, deep pink in the bud, lighter pink on opening, and fading to almost white as they age. Seed is often set, and plants are easily raised that way. They can also be divided every three or four years.

These are seldom offered for sale but are worth looking out for if you want a bit of summer colour in a shady spot. There is another variety you can sometimes find in New Zealand, a pinker flowered hybrid of C. moorei called C. x powelli. It does not grow quite so tall.

In an ironic twist, one of my female cousins married a Powell, and her son has Crinis as a middle name, so I guess they grow this variety.

The Crinum genus is large – there are over 100 species – but very few are available. They mainly come from South Africa and are closely enough related to Amaryllis that crosses between the two genera have been raised. These hybrids are called X Crinodonna and have large stems with drooping pink flowers.

The Amaryllis genus is tiny compared to Crinum – there is but one species, A. belladonna, but it must be one of the best-known of all South African bulbs. There is scarcely an old garden in New Zealand that doesn’t have a clump aor two of this hidden somewhere.

Hailing from the dry areas of South Africa, this species is one that all gardeners cherish – it will thrive on neglect. Planted into a hot and dry position and left alone, will flower reliably year after year. The flower stems, which appear while the plant has no leaves, hence ‘naked ladies’, grow to just over a meter and come in a range from white through to deep cerise, although pink is the most common colour.

Coming from a very warm area of South Africa, the Amaryllis has evolved to be summer deciduous. In theory, at least, the flowers and the leaves that follow do not appear until the first of the autumn rains occur. Of course, this year things have been a bit different, and, perhaps due to the wet summer we have been experiencing, they seem to be flowering a little earlier than usual.

There are some named forms, but they are seldom seen for sale. We grow a lovely white form which has a golden throat. They came from a batch of seeds a friend and I grew some years ago, hoping for some variation. There was none, but the pure white flowers look great in the mixed border they are growing in.

In our first house, the Head Gardener and I grew yet another member of this family – Brunsvigia. This is yet another South African genus, the only one commonly grown [and it is by no means common] being the candelabra lily, B. josephinae. This has long-lasting flowers, similar in shape to an Amaryllis but smaller. It makes up for that by carrying 15 or more on each stem.

This plant has the biggest bulb I have ever grown – it is the size of an inflated football. If you can get your hands on one, plant it in a warm, dry spot where it will get the summer baking the bulb needs.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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