Recently I’ve been blogging about dainty, polite little bulbs like autumn crocus, cyclamen and dwarf daffodils. Now, as the weather turns from ‘mildly autumnal’ to ‘deluge’ and I’m trapped inside, it’s time to take a look at the drag queens of the bulb world, amaryllis.
Just like drag queens, the name we know them by is not their own. The houseplant amaryllis is in fact properly called Hippeastrum, which to me sounds like some obscure bodily part. So, like pretty much everyone else, I’m happy to call them amaryllis and be done with it.
Their popularity as a Christmas plant has rocketed in recent years. So what are the attractions? Subtle they ain’t. Dwarf and easy to fit into any space? Not really. Hardy? Not on your nelly. However, they have flowers like nothing else – making a big, bold, blowsy statement in the middle of winter – and what’s more they come in perfect seasonal colours.
Varieties such as ‘Blossom Peacock’ and ‘Spartacus’ come in very Christmassy combinations of red and white. If you prefer rich, velvety, glass-of-port-by-the-fire reds and maroons, you’ll be well-catered for by ‘Grand Diva’ and ’Black Pearl’ among others.
I like to pot a few of these up in time for Christmas, and then do a later batch of the more subtly-coloured ones for flowering in January and February. They come in many delightful shades of soft greens such as ‘Lemon Star’ and whites such as ‘White Garden’. Somehow these seem much more appropriate in the post-Christmas lull, their pale colours offering hope of spring blossom to come through the darkest, coldest days of the year.
How to grow amaryllis
Amaryllis are easy to coax into flower. Just like paper-white daffodils I mentioned in a recent blog, they’re primed and ready to go. You can even buy them as waxed bulbs, which will flower when you put them on a warm sunny windowsill – that’s all you have to do!
Personally I prefer to grow them in big glass vases with glass pebbles in the bottom, with water just coming up to the base of the bulb. These are large, heavy flowers, so make sure you use a tall, heavy vase, otherwise the whole lot could come crashing down.
They can be potted up in compost like normal bulbs (but leave a third of the bulb above soil level), which means you can keep them for next year. They need to be kept indoors in the warmest, sunniest spot possible, and given a late summer rest, with no water from roughly mid July to mid October. Possibly to my discredit, I tend to not bother saving them. They’re the same price as a decent bunch of flowers and last much longer. So I compost them after flowering, and try a new variety every year. Their colour and drama never fail to lift my spirits when all outside is cold, dank and grey.