Stock up on amaryllis bulbs now to enjoy a riot of color to lift the January blues | gardens
I He returned from three weeks in Italy to find that the seasons had changed. Not outside, much – the wet, warm autumn meant that many of the trees were green and in the garden the roses were still in bloom, and the grass was distinctly tall (mowing it before I left was one of the many things on my to-do list that remained unchecked). Instead, we were back in the supermarket new season: mince pies, Toblerone and advent calendars were everywhere.
This filled me with mild despair. But the winds are bad, etc., so seasonal mixing on the trails means benefits elsewhere—namely, the bargain of amaryllis bulbs off the shelves.
It was always my grandfather who gave amaryllis (or as they are better known, hippeastrum) bulbs to his older grandchildren to plant at Christmas. I was the second youngest and never had one, which is probably why I’ve been hooked over the past few years.
These massive bulbs—which often have price tags to match—spend their time in the gravel and grass as fall turns to winter, only to explode into a riot of color and noise during the shortest of days.
There’s something fantastically garish about them, bordering on naff, in fact. Huge trumpet flowers. Long stems are recommended to be placed in a pot that is tall and large enough to prevent them from tipping over; The drooping stamens are wild stripes of color. In the dreary void after New Year’s Day, you couldn’t wish for a bigger statement. When I spy them in the supermarket – often, annoyingly, with their little plastic pots, soil etc., which usually end up in oleo – I tend to stock up on at least three. The unicorn is a good thing; Multiples of them are glorious.
Hippeastrum bulbs are fairly easy to operate: Fill a vase or “tall tom” (a taller, thinner plant pot) with pea gravel and position the bulb (with the pointed piece facing out) with the top two-thirds above the surface. They can rot easily, especially if they don’t get enough light, so place them in a warm, sunny location indoors. It does not need much watering until the leaves appear, then water it. An alien-like flower stem will appear, and when this happens, keep turning the pot to keep it upright.
As for varieties, I’ve been a fan of “Apple Blossom” for years — the soft pink color goes well with a living room — but there are stripes, ruffles and delicately edged petals galore if you stray off the supermarket shelf and into the mail-order catalogs. ‘Picotee’ is a good and interesting option for those who are forever hard to buy for; ‘Nymph’ has excellent ruffles while ‘Benfica’ offers just the right crimson for Christmas. For a little drama in the gray January, I ordered ‘Sumatra’, which has dark orange pointed petals.