The beautiful flora native to southern Africa is a perfect addition to any garden in the UK. Their versatility and long-lasting blooms bring a unique touch of exotic beauty to borders. This recommendation comes from John Grimshaw. Plus, by subscribing to Gardens Illustrated magazine, you’ll receive a set of Niwaki Sentei Secateurs!
Over three decades ago, while exploring the alpine region of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, I stumbled upon a petite bulb with pink flowers. The bulb was Hesperantha petitiana, which is a member of a genus that consists of more than 80 species. Most of these species are exclusive to the Western Cape’s winter-rainfall areas in southern Africa, where some of the more common species can be found in vast quantities.
During the day, hesperanthas may not catch your attention, but come afternoon or evening, they burst into bloom – which is why they are known as ‘evening flowers’. These species have been cultivated for over 200 years in the Western Cape, but unfortunately, they are usually only found in specialist collections. This is a shame since many of them are stunning, such as the yellow and chocolate-colored Hesperantha vaginata, the pink Hesperantha pauciflora, and the pink-backed Hesperantha cucullata, whose flowers turn white in the late afternoon. Seeing tens of thousands of these beautiful flowers among other bulbs and annuals in Namaqualand, southern Africa is truly a sight to behold.
When it comes to gardeners, the name Hesperantha is often associated with the stunning Hesperantha coccinea species. This particular plant stands out among its genus and was even considered to be the only species in the Schizostylis genus for a long time. The Hesperantha coccinea species hails from the Drakensberg range located in eastern South Africa, where around 14 species of this plant can be found. Most species in this area bloom in the summer, with their pink flowers opening during the day. However, only two species, Hesperantha baurii and Hesperantha huttonii, are commonly cultivated. Similar to Western Cape species, these plants grow from corms that need to be renewed annually, and they go through a period of dormancy during the cold and dry winter months. In their natural habitat, these plants thrive in damp areas during the summer, and this condition should be replicated in cultivation.
Are you interested in growing Hesperantha but don’t know where to start? This beautiful flower is best grown from seed, which should be sown in late summer. If you live in an area with dull weather, using supplemental lighting can be beneficial.
In the wild, Hesperantha coccinea grows alongside streams and through wet moss cushions in the mountains of eastern South Africa into Zimbabwe. However, this requirement for running water doesn’t extend to gardens, where Hesperantha coccinea will grow in any reasonable soil almost anywhere in the UK and Ireland.
One of the great values of Hesperantha is its predominantly autumn-flowering period. You can expect spikes of beautiful satiny flowers over a long season from August into winter. If there is no frost, the flowers may even last until December or January. So, if you want to add some color to your garden during the fall and winter months, try growing Hesperantha!
If you’re thinking of growing Hesperantha coccinea, it’s important to provide it with rich and moist soil in an area that gets full sun. Although it can tolerate dry conditions to some extent, it won’t thrive as well in these conditions. The height of the plant will also depend on the growing conditions, so give it a sunny and well-drained spot in your rock garden. Keep in mind that this plant only grows to be about 15-30cm high, so make sure it’s not overshadowed by taller plants.
To ensure optimal growth, it is recommended to uplift, split, and replant exhausted bunches of hesperantha every 2-3 years in nutrient-rich soil. It is common for the stoloniferous nature of the plant to exceed its limits, resulting in leftover pieces when uprooted. If necessary, weed out these pieces by hand. Prior to mulching, shear or strim away any unkempt, overwintered foliage in the spring. In colder regions, adding a thick layer of mulch in late fall can help, but generally, Hesperantha coccinea is hardy in the UK, Ireland, and milder parts of western Europe and North America. However, winter-growing species from the Western Cape like Hesperantha vaginata and Hesperantha pauciflora require frost-free, cool yet well-ventilated and bright conditions in well-drained, gritty compost, kept moist in the winter and dry in the summer.
Combining Hesperantha with other plants can enhance the beauty of your garden. If you want to add late-season interest, you can plant Hesperantha coccinea among early flowering plants like daffodils or around an iris in wetter areas. However, in a dry garden, it may not thrive well. But, you can still grow a patch of rich-red Hesperantha coccinea ‘Major’, which complements late-flowering soft yellow Crocosmia ‘Ellenbank Canary’ and blue-mauve Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’. You can also pair white or pale-pink cultivars with darker colchicums, and let their foliage compete in spring for an interesting garden display.
Growing a healthy row of Hesperantha coccinea in your cutting garden is a great way to enjoy an extended season of beautiful flowers that last into the winter months. For a late-season indoor decoration, plant strong corms in a large pot. Be sure to remove any seedheads before they can cause unwanted seedlings to mix with your named selections. Although pests and diseases are rare for hesperanthas, viruses can occasionally cause streaking in the flowers. If you’re looking for the best hesperantha variety to grow, go with the Hesperantha coccinea ‘Major’.
Jason Ingram’s photo showcases the stunning Hesperantha coccinea ‘Major’, which is considered the crème de la crème of red-flowered cultivars – although there may be some differences between its stocks. Its striking, round, 6cm flowers boast a gorgeous, almost coppery red hue with a lustrous sheen that catches the eye in sunlight. This plant grows to 50cm x 30 cm and has earned an AGM award. It is hardy enough to thrive in USDA zones 7a-9b, with an RHS H4 rating. Additionally, there is also a white-flowered cultivar, known as Hesperantha coccinea ‘Alba’.
Several cultivars of Hesperantha coccinea, a flowering plant, are available in white and deep-red colors. The size and shape of the flowers vary among these cultivars. This specific plant has pointed segments and looks stunning when planted in large numbers in a garden. It grows up to 50cm in height and 40cm in width and is suitable for planting in USDA zones 7a-9b and RHS H4. Another cultivar, named ‘Cindy Towe,’ has deep-red flowers with pointed segments and blooms between July and August. It was discovered as a seedling in June Towe’s garden in Herefordshire and named after her dog. This plant grows up to 60cm in height and 45cm in width and is also suitable for planting in USDA zones 7a-9b and RHS H4.
The Hesperantha coccinea, native to South Africa, often produces pale pink flowers. However, the ‘Rosea’ cultivar boasts richer coloring and is known for its abundant blossoms. This plant grows to be 50cm x 30cm and is suitable for regions with USDA hardiness zones 7a-9b and is classified under RHS H4. Another cultivar of the species is the ‘Jennifer’, which features large flowers up to 6cm in diameter with pale pink, rounded segments that are even lighter towards the center of the bloom. This vigorous plant requires regular division and is recognized with an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) while also classified under RHS H4 and USDA hardiness zones 7a-9b. Hesperantha huttonii is another species in the Hesperantha genus.
The Hesperantha Huttonii is a tough plant that blooms during summer and can be commonly seen growing along cliffs, in forest clearings, as well as along rivers in the Eastern Cape mountains. This plant can be a great addition to rock gardens or placed at the front of borders where it can easily self-seed. It typically grows up to 15-30cm in height with a spread of 15cm. Another variety of this plant is the Hesperantha vaginata.
The Hesperantha vaginata is a winter-growing plant that blooms in the southern African spring. With its striking color, it attracts pollinating beetles and mimics other flowers with similar patterns native to Namaqualand. However, it can be challenging to cultivate. This species measures 20cm x 3cm. On the other hand, Hesperantha coccinea ‘Oregon Sunset’ is a particularly tall clone, with rich-pink flowers, selected by the Oregon nursery Gossler Farms. It thrives on the west coast of North America and measures 60-80cm x 35cm. Its hardiness rating is RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b.
The ‘Pink Princess’ Hesperantha coccinea has a unique feature where its pink hue is most prominent when the flower buds first appear and gradually fades to almost white as they bloom. The flower’s yellow-green ovary at the center stands out and adds to its distinct appearance. This cultivar can grow up to 60cm in height and 30cm in width, and has been awarded the RHS H4 and USDA 7a-9b ratings. Another cultivar, the ‘Mollie Gould’ Hesperantha coccinea, also holds its own with its unique characteristics.
The Hesperantha coccinea Mollie Gould is a unique cultivar known for its tall stature and extended blooming period. Its lovely pink flowers feature a captivating darker central streak. This cultivar measures 50cm x 35cm and is classified as RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b. Another noteworthy variety is the Hesperantha coccinea ‘Sunrise’.
The Hesperantha coccinea ‘Sunrise’ is an abundant and tardy plant, often seen in full bloom during Christmas season. Its striking pink flowers are large and stand out prominently above the foliage. With an AGM and a RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b, it’s a great addition to your garden. On the other hand, the endemic Hesperantha cucullata can be found in the Cape Provinces and Namaqualand in large numbers. During late afternoons, its buds open up into white flowers and its intermediate stage is particularly charming. It grows up to 30cm x 60cm and USDA 9a-10. Lastly, there is the Hesperantha bachmannii.
The Hesperantha bachmannii is a unique plant species that can be found in the Western Cape Province, particularly in Namaqualand. Its flowers have a distinct fragrance and hang downwards with reflexed segments, giving it an unusual appearance among other plants in its genus. However, growing this plant can be quite challenging, as it belongs to the winter-rainfall species. It typically grows up to 25cm in height and has a width of 2cm.