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In our family and amongst our friends, it's almost a tradition that someone always gets an amaryllis bulb at Christmas. Others may think of Poinsettias as the Christmas plant but we have a soft spot for amaryllises (surely that's not really the word for more than one).
Why do we love them so? Well they are very easy to grow and grow so fast that from one day to the next you can practically see them getting bigger. Then there's the 'amusing' shape - yes, we call them 'willies in pots' - they are pretty 'anatomical'. Photos are exchanged to see who has the biggest one.
And then best of all, the flowers burst into action, looking like giant, brightly coloured trumpets.
The ones we grow in the UK tend to be Dutch bulbs which are bred to flower early in the year. I've bought amaryllis bulbs directly from Dutch flower markets but more typically we buy kits containing the bulb, the compost and a pot. Plant the bulb with about an inch or the top of the bulb sticking out of the soil or compost. In some countries you can plant them outdoors but most parts of the UK will be too cold for that.
Due to the cost of the bulbs, we tend to grow them singly in pots but you can plant several together in a larger pot for a bigger display. Put them somewhere warm and sunny and water them only when the top inch or two of soil is dry. If you can pop them on top of a radiator so they have good bottom heat, it will stimulate them to get growing sooner.
Clever and patient gardners can feed and fertilise the plants after flowering and get the bulbs to flower year after year. I'm lazy and I tend to just buy new bulbs - or get given them for Christmas - each year. That way I'm never too sure what colour I will get.
I am genially so excited! As I work for in advertisement, every now and then a new, or old, supplier will send round some new stock or some products as gifts that have done very well. For Christmas I was given 4 bulbs.
As I had never grown planets or in fact been interested in anyway about growing plants these didn't really excite me. They came home with me and sat on my window seal in a box for about a month. I then decided to have a clear out and I opened the box to find that they had all started growing.
Unaware of what plant they even were I got them out and looked for some pots. I found a little manual and found out they were different types of Ameryllis; Prelude, Lion, Apple and dark pearl.
After looking them up on the internet it turns out these are incredibly easy to look after and even better, are amazingly beautiful. They are growing so fast maybe an inch a day so it is great to see the progress.
All you need is a pot about 7 inches deep and 2-3 inchs wider than your bulb, clay pots are best. I have got 23L pots which seem fine. You need to buy all purpose potting soil. Fill the pot a third with soil then put in the bulb. Continue to fill the pot untill the bulb is 3 quarters covered. Pat down the soil generusly, then pour a decent amount of water, staying close around the bulb. You do not need to start watering it again untill it begins to sprout. Then, simply add more water every time the soil looks dry.
I am surprised at how excited I am about these plants but I cannot wait for them to bloom!! Everything from the word to the flowers (that I really hope do bloom) seem to be beautiful. I will let you know who they get on !
After 3 weeks one of my plants has begun to open up and there is a beginnings of a white and pink flower. I have to tuen the pots around everyday as they begin to lean to the side trying to reach the sun.
Amaryllis! What a lovely word! I love the way it rolls from the mouth; it was a popular Greek name for women in ancient times. I would have loved to be called such a romantic sounding name as Amaryllis.
Amaryllis or Hippeastrum?
What is in a name? Well the true Amaryllis Belladonna is a different bulb altogether. This Amaryllis has Hippeastrum as its botanical name, which means Knight Star, another romantic sounding name I think.
So, what is it?
A flowering bulb.
Flowering bulbs include some of my favourite flowers and plants, this one I dont generally plant in the garden but grow indoors to brighten the darkest days of winter. A tender bulb, which started life in the mountains of South America. I am not sure though how it came to grow in parts of Africa. My uncle spent a large part of his life in such exotic places as Tanzania, and I vaguely remember him laughing one winter when my mum was growing one of these bulbs on the windowsill, telling us that they just sprouted from the ground after a dry spell and he found it so funny that here in England we were growing them one to a pot on the windowsill in the hope of a beautiful flower in time for Christmas.
What do they look like?
For a bulb they are quite big, I have been looking at different places on the internet where you can buy them, and none of them are sized, but they range in size from a medium to very large onion and look a little similar. Not to be confused with an onion though because the bulbs dont smell and I know of no irritants to skin or eyes. The bulb is denser than an onion and rather like a large daffodil bulb with a dryish skin on the outside.
When you buy them they usually have a few old roots hanging from the base of the bulb, these dont sprout and grow from the ends so the dried out ones can be pulled off before planting.
How do you grow them?
This is the easy peasy bit. First you get a flowerpot, a fairly large one will do the job perfectly; fill the bottom half with compost. Often when you buy amaryllis they come in a box with a small bag of compost and sometimes even a pot. My mum has had a couple though that fell over when planted in the supplied pot so now I always plant them in a pot a bit bigger than suggested as this gives them more stability. Stand the bulb on the layer of compost and fill the rest of the pot round the sides of the bulb. Now this is where Amaryllis differs from most of the garden bulbs that I plant outside. You need to leave the top of the bulb poking out of the top of the compost. I dont know what will happen if you plant it too deeply, but maybe without the light it wont come into flower.
Water until the compost is damp and keep a little on the dry side until the bud starts poking out of the top of the bulb.
This is where it gets interesting!
Once the bud has started to show at the top of the bulb the fun starts. You can almost measure it hour by hour and definitely can measure its growth day by day, something like an inch a day I have recorded. It will grow anything between 10 inches and almost two foot tall before the bud splits and the individual flowers open.
Six petals, central stamens, standing on one thick stalk. The stalk is fleshy and can bend or break when very tall, so it might be a good idea to put a thin stick beside the stalk and tie the two together.
Many but not varied. Red, pink, white and variations of all those. There is one red, which is rather more of a deep orange, and I think there may be a yellow one. My uncle said all the ones in Africa were yellow, which surprised me, but then gin was very cheap where he lived so his memory might have been flawed.
Nowadays you can buy Amaryllis that are pure white with a thin red picote edging each petal. Some of them have white in the centre of the flower and some are somewhat striped.
Where do you buy them?
The one I bought my mum last week came from Woolworths and was £2.49 which really is very cheap for something that lasts several weeks and has a huge interest value. Of course, the bud isnt showing yet and she is beginning to get a bit impatient. Co-op at the moment has them for £3.99 buy one get one free. All the big supermarkets will sell them gift boxed for Christmas. Boots have them with ceramic pots and glass vases, I wouldnt recommend spending a tenner or more on one in a glass vase, I have never had success growing them this way. Most garden centres stock them and the price and size varies. The bigger the bulb the bigger the price. In theory it should mean the bigger and more numerous the flowers but I found it is rather hit and miss, you can buy a huge bulb and plant it in good potting compost and not get a very good show of flowers and you can buy a smaller bulb from somewhere like Woolworths and it can grow two stalks with four flowers on top of each.
So, once the flower is finished, what then?
The leaves will grow and continue to keep watered while they grow, you can put it outside in the garden once the threat of frost is over and leave it to mature out there. Let the plant dry off at the end of the summer and leave dry to rest for about 10 weeks, if you can keep it fairly cool at this time all the better and then re pot and start into growth once again. It might flower again, it might not, rarely is it as big and beautiful as the first time though. Bulbs grown for sale are grown in optimum conditions which are difficult to re create in the average garden or house.
A couple of oddities.
One year, my Amaryllis was tall, the buds opened and it looked beautiful when it fell over for me to discover that it hadnt a root to its name. I didnt know what to do with it so propped it up at the side of our pond and there it stood to attention and the flowers lasted weeks.
One year, not knowing what to do with the Amaryllis once the flowers were over and the tall strap like leaves got in the way of the window I put one in the garden. I dont recall seeing it the next year but the year after that it came up and flowered at the end of May. We live on the south coast and part of my garden is quite sheltered and sunny but with the climate changes we have seen I think maybe this might work again. Next spring I will plant another one and see what happens.
One year I sent one to my sister in Scotland for Christmas and she was so impressed with the flower that she painted me a picture of it when it flowered and that painting hangs on my sitting room wall, one of my sisters originals which I am proud to own.
Buy one for a friend or relative for Christmas or buy one for yourself to grow on the windowsill for a splash of bright colour in the depths of winter, which gives you a feeling that spring is not far away.
Well, it was on a whim some time ago after being housebound and fed up to the back teeth, that I decided to attempt growing some house plants as another interest. I tried, how I tried, I gave them their own light but sheltered spot, watered them, fed them, even said "Good Morning" occasionally but they all sprouted then withered and died without much action. All except for one. The Amaryllis (Hippeastrum). For years as a child my mother had a row of these on the window sill at home and they were affectionately known as "the Triffids" due to their appearance and they always seemed to yield impressive flowers without too much tending. So I decided to have a go myself. I bought one from Woolworths that came complete with ceramic pot and compost in a kit for £3.99 but you can buy just the separate bulbs from garden/homeware shops for about £1 each if you don't want to buy a kit. So I duly plonked the bulb in the pot - sorry carefully planted it in the pot with the compost - as per the instructions on the box and watered it and fed it with "MiracleGro". Success! My Triffid grew an impressive 15 inch stalk with about 5 large trumpet shaped blooms in a glorious deep red colour and last for a few months. It is still alive but "resting" during the colder months. These plants are very easy to keep as they do not require too much watering and do not need a lot of pruning and tending to, just remove the dead leaves at the end of their season. Sometimes the thick, fleshy main stalk may need a support as they do grow very tall. All being well they should grow a new stalk with glorious blooms annually. I chose a deep red colour but they also come in pink, orange, red and white striped and pink and white striped. They are readily available in most garden/plant outlets and even I can grow them! My only success and so I will stick with the simple but beautiful Amaryllis p
lant in future and enjoy a nice display of triffids!
I planted a AMARYLLIS Belladonna Lily last year.I put it in a bed next to a south facing wall,it was well worth the gamble.It displayed large pink trumpet like flowers which lasted about 8 weeks.the leaves appeared in Spring and died down in eary Summer.About a month later the thick flower stalk appeared topped by 4 blooms.The species I grew was belladonna. the fragrant flowers measured about 3ins across. Stake the stems to avoid wind damage and cut them down once the flowering is over.Cover the crown with sand during the winter months.Full sun is essential, and any well drained soil will do.Plant out in eary July to a depth of 8ins spacing about 1ft apart. Amaryllis hate disturbance.