After party: late-flowering Schizostylis coccinea ‘Major’. Photograph: John Glover/Alamy
Our neighbours up the lane, who arrived here in the 1950s, have a garden that feels relaxed by time. It sits between the farmhouse and a hedged area of orchard where they keep chickens. It is a place that is comfortable and lived in, one thing seeded into the next as it tumbles downhill towards the road. There is always something of note. A lilac haze of Crocus tomassinianus carpets the entire garden in the spring, and the peonies that follow sit under the blossom of fruit trees. They are soon lost among a billow of phlox and then asters, which seem to take every corner when it is their time.
Right now, and just when you think there is no room or time left in the season, the schizostylis begin to crack the whip. I admired them in the first autumn we came here, never having grown them before. My enthusiasm was noted and I was promised some the next time they were divided. Three clumps arrived unannounced at the front door this spring, wrapped carefully in plastic bags. I potted them up to see what would happen.
There is nothing like growing something for yourself to get to know a plant. One of the nicest things about the schizostylis is their lateness. During the wait, they showed me that they liked to be kept damp when it was hot and dry, and that they liked the sun and would lean if they found themselves lacking. I have watched the tight clumps of foliage for a spear since August, when most latecomers are already showing you their plans. It wasn’t until early September that the schizostylis’s first signs of promise were evident. I have enjoyed every moment of their slow and sure progress towards flowering.
Moody blues: Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. Photograph: Carol Sharp/Corbis
The first to flower is Schizostylis coccinea ‘Major’, which appears as soft red when contrasted against the last of the pelargoniums, but will pack a brick-red punch when given room to show off. They would be a gift to an Ikebana artist, held lightly on wiry stems, one flower coming at a time so that you can see the passage of autumn mapped along the stem. Picked, they last for ages and then you can set them among bubblegum-pink nerines.
Schizostylis coccinea ‘Rosea’ is a soft shell-pink that I usually don’t like, but it is good at this time of year in gentle sunshine. I bought the white form ‘Alba’ and ‘Pink Princess’ from the Dixter plant fair, to add to my new infatuation. I plan to use them with indigo blue Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, which can run among the clumps without overwhelming them.
Being slow burners, schizostylis look good for the whole summer, but they can be interplanted with earlier bulbs, such as alliums, to cover for them early on. You will be pleased to have committed to something you have had to wait such a long time for.
Although they are hardy, it’s best to split schizostylis in spring, when you see new growth and know that the growing season is on your side. Protect them for the first winter until they are established.
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