Dear All, Hope you find this of interest. TOW - Nerine First, some introduction to myself. I did not give this earlier, as I was not (I almost put "au fait" but perhaps I should not use French phrases here. Things French are not exactly popular in these or certain other parts of the world! And rightly so in my view.) familiar with the customs of these parts. I garden in middle Southern England, on the warmer end of Zone 9. Severe frosts and snow are rare, but can catch you out, if you are not watching. Generally wet, but with occasional dry periods, so storing rain water is handy. It is the wet that comes with these not so cold temperatures that is the major problem in doing the damage to bulbs of all kinds. Our plot is a little under one third of an acre. The soil is a fine alluvial clay containing a very little fine sand (about 2%, almost not noticeable unless you swill some soil with water to wash away the clay loam) about a spit deep (i.e. a spade's depth; use this word spit elsewhere?). The subsoil is heavy clay with flints aplenty. When we first came to this home 30 years ago, I filled a 1.5 ton truck with the larger flints picked out in the first couple of months when I cut the vegetable plot into the far end of the back garden. I have gardened for over 50 years and as that gardening started when food rationing was still in place, vegetable and later fruit growing were my start and still take my time. The soil is acid and suits magnolia (with some attention to drainage being a great plus for these), camellia, rhododendron, pieris and hydrangea. I have a few of each of these and all of them have one blessing. In general, they look after themselves! The soil is badly drained as a result of the clay beds but fortunately we are on a slight slope so that no water accumulates on the surface. However, having improved the drainage of the vegetable garden particularly, when I irrigate in dry spells in summer, I can see the water run off at the lower end where the water has gone down to the clay layer and then run along the top off this bed. This poor drainage makes for difficult conditions for many bulbs. I have seen some of your comments about tulips not being worth the bother for more than one year. I certainly find that tulips and daffodils of various cultivars will flower the first year and then take time to settle down to growing and flowering every year. Some 'Pheasant's Eye' that I put in about 5 years ago have just about settled in to regular flowering. Add the frost and wet combination in winter and hardiness becomes an important factor. That other common hardy amaryllid, Crinum x powelli does well by the East- and West-facing house walls where the usual builders rubbish provides some good drainage. Nerine I picked up on nerine about 25 years ago, apart from a few Nerine bowdenii which survived outside. Most of my collection of the non-hardy sorts are named hybrids. The dozen species are all fairly recent additions. There are two great advantages of growing nerine from the practical point of view. First, they need very little heat in the winter months - temperatures just above freezing and they will survive, though this is not necessarily the best temperature to keep them with a good flower show in mind. So that keeps cost down (a point I particularly appreciate since at one time I grew a number of orchids). Second, they can take a certain amount of neglect. They do not need constant attention to watering. This is particularly useful at holiday times as none of my neighbours are "specialist" growers in any sense! However, the greatest appeal of nerine is in the aesthetic sense. There are other flowers which have the refractive and reflective combination that gives them a sparkle, but for me there is nothing as good as being greeted by "Lady Cynthia Colville" on a sunny October day when her flowers facing the sun have a sparkle to gladden any heart. It is this flowering period that is a part of their specialness - they come at a time of year, the early to late autumn and in a few cases into mid-winter, when there are fewer plants in flower. They are also long-lasting flowers on the bulb or as cut flowers. This particularly applies with Nerine bowdenii outside, here, when its pink flowers are a very welcome last glory before winter arrives. The degree of sparkle varies from one plant to another. The old Victorian gardeners used to refer to gold or silver dusting on the petals, but it is not particles on the surface. The cells making up the surface are so shaped that the light rays are refracted, giving partial effect to colour of the returning rays, and reflected from the base of the cell, adding a further turn to the colour effect. So each cell adds its little piece to the whole. Having various sized cells in different species or cultivars, there is then the appearance of different sized "sparkle units". A second variation in nerine lies in the colour variation. Particularly with the cultivars, there is the potential for three units of colour on each petal; a ground colour with the edge colour most often along the sides of the whole petal and a central stripe which may not lie on the whole of the petal from base to tip. In some cultivars, the stripe or edge or both may be missing. Colours vary from through shades of pink to red. The third variation lies in the degree to which the petals reflex. the better looking flowers tend to be more reflexed. The fourth variation lies in the crinkling of the petals, with a wide variation from none to those heavily crinkled at the tips and on down the sides of the petals towards the base. Cultivation Except for N. bowdenii and a few others such as "Pink Triumph", nerines are not hardy enough to withstand frost. Mine grow in a greenhouse kept frost-free, generally at a minimum of about 45 F, through the winter. Such is the vagaries of our weather that temperatures are often above this even over night in winter. More warmth makes for better vegetative growth. I have not specifically observed deleterious effects of excessive temperatures of flowering pattern, though temperatures below about 40 F seem to discourage flowering and I would conjecture that high temperatures may be bad for the following years flower display. For the winter-growers, foliage is beginning to die down about now. I keep it going for as long as possible and feed well with Phostrogen liquid feed. Pots are tall square pots, 12 cm square at the top, tapering slightly to the base and 20 cm tall, and I aim for 3 flowering size bulbs in a pot. The slight overcrowding this leads to as offsets develop does not seem to be deleterious but the extra depth compared to normal pots appears to be an advantage. The square compared with the usual round pots also save space as they can be packed closer together without detriment to the plants. As for any greenhouse user, there is always a shortage of space. These pots have been produced here for the nursery trade for such as smaller roses and other shrubs. They are 2 litre capacity, about midway between a standard 6 and 7 inch pots. (The company that makes them has a three litre version on the way. I wish they would make a smaller version, say 9x9x15, for growing on offsets.) Compost is my own mix of one part each of garden soil, leafmold (or peat if it is not available), vermiculite (standard builders' grade) and grit (3 to 6 mm particle size). The soil and leafmold are sifted through a quarter inch sieve. I add fertilizer to bring the mix to John Innes 3 level but with double the amount of lime instead of limestone to allow for the acidity of my loam and to avoid buying expensive limestone - I am, after all a Scot and a bit tight with my cash. (Aberdonians have the reputation of being the tightest and I'm not Aberdonian. Besides, the definition of an Aberdonian is a Yorkshireman with the meanness taken out.) I also add 20 gm of Supergel (poly-N-acrylamide which swells to about 100 times its volume to hold on to water), 20 gm of trace element frit (many amaryllids send out deep roots which delve into environments high in rarer metals) and about 40 gm of iron filings (I'm a former long time chrysanthemum grower) to each bushel of compost. The whole is very porous and I ensure that I water frequently but never leave the pots standing in water. These square pots have raised feet at the corners so that drainage is ensured and 24 will sit comfortably in a Growbag tray on the greenhouse bench. During the growing season, I water with a liquid fertilizer on every occasion, when the pots dry out from the previous watering. Overwatering is death to the roots and the bulb will regress. I hold no truck with those who have advised in the past that nerines do well on a starvation diet. Most of my nerines are autumn-flowering, winter- and spring-growing, and summer dormant. Watering essentially stops as the leaves die down and the bulb passes into dormancy but for successful flowering, it is necessary to ensure that the compost does not dry out totally. This is common to a number of other amaryllids. It is necessary to maintain the roots in turgid condition or the incipient flower buds abort. So the plants get an occasion sprinkle through the summer according to temperature and dryness. Rain water only is used - it's not often we run short of that! About the end of July or into the first couple of weeks of August, I will give a heavier watering and then wait for the flower buds to show. During the summer the bulbs are shaded to prevent them getting too hot - baking is not required for good flowering results. I have on occasion moved them outside into protected frames with good ventilation, and shading as need be, to keep them cool, but the size of my collection makes this a bit of a chore now. Water moderately as the flower scape develops. Keep the volume of water low until leaves develop. This may be as the scape grows or after the scape has reached full height or even after the flowers have opened and begun to fade. Where a bulb produces more than one scape, I find that they usually come in sequence and the leaves will develop considerably after the first scape is well advanced; thus the following scape will be on a well-leafed bulb. And hence the merry round. Fertilization is generally easy for the species and many of the cultivars. Some cultivars are particularly poor at seed set or as pollen parent or both. The seed grows readily and the fruit will fall open when ripe enough. The ripe seed are green; I am still surprised by the wide variation in size of the seed obtained, often within the same pod, and yet still being viable. The seed will germinate soon after ripe. I have never tried keeping seed by cooling or drying. Sow on the surface of a fine gritty compost and the seed sends out a radicle to pierce the compost and form a bulb below the surface. Some radicles seem to be weak and I give them a helping hand with a slit in the surface of the compost and manouevre the radicle into it. The first leaf will come up fairly soon after. Keep the bulblets growing, potting up only when the seedling pot gets near to crowding to minimize disturbance. Until they reach flowering size, there is no need for any dormant period, though of course flowering size varies from one specie or hybrid to another and it's a bit of a guess-and-by-golly-game. But at least two years and fairly safely three years may be allowed to get to flowering size. Part 2 with some comment on species and cultivars follows tomorrow. I'm late! Regards to All, Hamish Sloan Newbury, Berkshire, England, Wettish Zone 9.