Hesperantha - Stars of Autumn

by Martin Blow, Plant Hunters Fairs

Hesperantha are one of those lovely late bloomers that surprise and delight us gardeners every autumn with their stunning show of brightly coloured flowers whatever the weather. The species coccinea has given rise to many hardy varieties suitable for most garden.

They are members of the iris family with flowers like a crocus on stems like a gladiolus. Coccinea is the only species that grows from rhizomes that spread underground, rather than from corms. They grow to 1-2ft / 30-60cm tall.

"Hesperantha" means "evening flower", I think reffering to the sunset shades of their colour since the flowers are open all day. "Coccinea" means “bright red”, and the wild types are crimson in colour. These are hardy to -5C or -10C depending on who you ask, but we’ve never lost one due to cold. Flowering goes on from August to November or even December, with the occasional flower in late spring. Garden breeding has given us lots of varieties all in shades of red, pink or white. All are equally easy to grow requiring only a rich soil and yearly feeding to perform well. They were previous called Schizostylus and common names include Crimson Flag and River Lily.

They perform well in wet or damp soils but will spread fairly rapidly. They are bit shorter in stature in dry soils but slower to spread. Enrich dry, poor soils with compost every couple of years. They can even be grown as pond marginals, though they may be less hardy in this position.

We’ve found them to be excellent cut flowers and all the varieties associate well together, so a vase of mixed stems is so attractive.

The wild species has star-shaped crimson-red flowers. The variety “Major” is taller and a bold scarlet-red with fuller flowers with rounded petals.

There are many pink varieties. “Fenland Daybreak” and “Mrs Heggarty” are mid-pink with dark striations, “Sunrise” is rose pink with large flowers, and “Pink Princess” (aka “Wilfred Bryant”) is the palest pink, nearly white.

“Alba” has a lovely green throat to the flowers that adds to the purity of the white petals.

These are such easy and adaptable plants to grow that brighten the shortening days of autumn when all else is fading.

Happy Gardening,

Martin Blow

Plant Hunters Fairs

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