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On first inspection you may wonder why you have been gifted a box of tissues – for the packaging of these supersized bulbs is often akin to our nasal wiping friends’ holder. But fear not, for this parcel is Pandora at her brightest.

Purple Rain
Purple Rain

Amaryllis (or Hippeastrum to give them their correct botanical name) are the Cartier of the horticultural jewels. Rather like diamond from carbon, comes 360 extravagance from a dull papery blob!

A favoured Christmas gift, these bulbs, native to South America, can flower within 6 weeks of planting. Not hardy outside in this country, these are going to be your house guests. Not as demanding as Great Aunt Matilda, happy as long as they have a little heat and rather like Uncle Fred, fond of a couple of drinks (although they prefer non-alcoholic!).

I’m not quite sure why, but up until now, this is one bulb that has failed to grace my horticultural hands or the pot that I hold in my horticultural hands to be more precise. Perhaps because at this time of the year I am blinded by my obsession with daffodils which are of course from the same family. No excuse however and I’m pleased to report that all this is about to change, as I put bulb to pot, sit back and observe, hoping that this is one watched pot that WILL boil over with a profusion of petals.

Lemon Star
Lemon Star

My cultivars of choice are ‘Tres Chic’ – red green and white – a real fashionista, worthy of her fancy name and for a more muted but equally delightful display, ‘Lemon Star’ – sunshine lemon to cheer the darkest of winter days. Fingers crossed that they thrive during their stay and leave a good review for me on the horticultural equivalent of TripAdvisor!

I was lucky enough this year to see the fabulous trial of Hippeastrum at RHS Wisely – around 70 different varieties all standing proud under cover during my January visit. Amaryllis apparently comes from the Greek word for sparkling – and this they certainly did. ‘Papilio’ is the holder of an RHS Award of Garden Merit, green and red with elaborate lines – like the brush strokes of one of the great artists – and often known as the ‘Butterfly Amaryllis’ – although this one certainly won’t be dormant at this time of year!

So let’s light up the season to come, with a bulb at the base and a bulb up top, rather like a lighthouse sharing its beacon of blooms.

Camilla Bassett-Smith

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