Bring in the New Year with a razzle-dazzle flower display that puts the faded poinsettia where it belongs: firmly on the compost heap.
Amaryllis, the tropical stunner from South America, will give you week after week of huge trumpet flowers that are the best antidote to a cold grey winter. You can buy several stalks, budded or in bloom, from the florist — but why buy them, when you can grow them so easily, and keep the bulb from one year to the next so it grows fatter and even more productive? By buying a bulb, you will also have a wider choice, from the rich, velvety reds and cool whites of the traditional large trumpet blooms, to the daintier butterfly flowers, such as the beautifully veined burgundy and ice green Papilio.
Give the bulb the best possible start and soak its roots, not the base of the bulb, in water overnight, by placing the bulb on a small jar or glass of water. Choose a pot that will give a snug fit, leaving just one inch between bulb and sides of pot. Add some drainage material, then fill with potting compost to which you have mixed in a handful of horticultural grit. When you plant it, the top third of the bulb should be visible above the compost.
Bold as brass: the wine-red and white-striped trumpets of Amaryllis Santiago have pizzazz in spades. Image: GAP Photos/Jason Ingram
Position your amaryllis in a light, warm place, free from draughts. Keep the compost just moist, and when a shoot appears, increase the watering, and start feeding weekly. When the buds open, move the plant to a cooler place to prolong its life.
Sarah Raven, who sells a good range of amaryllis bulbs (sarahraven.com) including the luscious hot-pink Hercules and crimson-black Royal Velvet, suggests making them look special from the start by poking twiggy stems around each bulb; these will also support the stems. One bulb will give you two or three flowering stems, but three or even five bulbs will make a spectacular show. You’re just going to need a bigger pot — and one that gives the bulbs the same snug fit.
Perfect festive centrepiece: blood-red Amaryllis Lucky Strike. Image: GAP Photos/Clive Nichols
You could also grow a single amaryllis bulb by water forcing, which is less painful than it sounds. Simply plop the bulb into the top of a large vase of water and leave in a warm, light place; after a few weeks, the flowers will appear. The bulb, however, will have shrunk, and you won’t be able to keep it for future years.
Thriftier indoor gardeners should keep the bulb in its pot, in a light, warm position. Cut the stems down but don’t touch the foliage, and continue to keep the compost moist. You could keep it outside once the frosts are over. When the leaves start to die back in late summer, stop watering to encourage the plant to go into dormancy, and store, still in its pot, until winter. Then you can bring it back indoors, and, with a little coaxing from warmth and water, bring this sleeping beauty back to glorious life once more.