Garden index

Hesperantha coccinea

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.

They are members of the iris family and closely akin to crocuses. Unlike crocuses they grow from rhizomes that spread underground and send up flat, sword-shaped leaves more like an iris. They grow to 1-2ft 30-60cm tall.

The most popular and hardy ones are varieties of H.coccinea, meaning “bright red”, and the wild types are crimson in colour. These are said to be 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.

Crimson Flag or River Lily are the accepted common names, the latter telling us about its native habitat.

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.

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.

Hesperantha comes from the Greek: Hesper - "evening star" and Antha - "flower". They were previously known as Schizostylis - "split stile".

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