How hybrids can be the best of both worlds | Gardening advice

Watching the last of the spring-flowering bulbs just start to slip away is always a moment slightly tinged with sadness for me. Yet, as with most things in gardening, their departure is also a reminder of the ideal time to get planting the next wave of bulbs, so you can keep the party going until the late autumn. And the best thing is that, in recent years, there have been a whole new group of varieties made available thanks to clever breeding, which have given us even more to play with: the amarines.

There’s a curious phenomenon in biology called “hybrid vigour”, where the offspring from the crossing of two different species are often larger, faster-growing and more resistant than either of their parents. This is particularly the case when the marriage is between two comparatively distantly related plants, belonging not just to different species, but totally different genera. So when I read that ingenious plant breeders had managed to cross the two autumn bulbs nerine and amaryllis to create a previously impossible intergeneric hybrid called “amarine” I knew we were likely on to a good thing – and after testing a few out I was simply blown away.

The shocking pink fireworks of nerine lilies had long been enormously popular as both garden plants and cut flowers. However, commercial cut-flower growers always found their lack of uniformity frustrating for, rather than popping up in perfect unison to be harvested in one go, they tended to bloom more steadily over a few weeks. The idea of trying to cross these with more uniform-flowering amaryllis for more synchronised blooming might not sound hugely beneficial to gardeners as it would technically mean a shorter season of colour. Yet this cross came with some pretty brilliant and unexpected consequences. Hybrid vigour meant that despite their more neatly defined flowering window, individual flowers also last much longer, meaning the benefit of their more dazzling single flush of blooms is potentiated by the fact they endure so much more.

Spectacular amaryllis, combined with a nerine to form the new amarine. Photograph: Mashabuba/Getty Images

Inheriting a larger bloom size and taller stature than typical nerines from amaryllis makes the show even more dramatic while their nerine genetics make them more cold-hardy than the sometimes finicky amaryllis, being able to survive at least -10C. Not bad considering these exotic flowers hail from sunny southern Africa. The best bit is that these aren’t just a single cross, but are now available in a range of colours, from the huge, fluorescent pink ‘Belladiva Anastasia’, to the ghostly white ‘Belladiva Emanuelle’ with delicate pink tinges to the petals’ edges. The one thing they will demand, however, is a really bright spot bathed in full sun all summer or they will simply refuse to bloom. The ideal location is a gravel garden or in patio pots where they will get the excellent drainage and high light levels they love. They will pay you back with years of joy in the darkest autumn days – proving that in gardening there is always something bright to look forward to.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek