When I was growing up we frequently visited my Aunt’s mother’s house. Mrs Barker, as I called her, was the lady who inspired my horticultural passions. They lived in a semi-detached in Hounslow on the outskirts of London and she had one of those long thin gardens with the concrete path down the middle to access the washing line. However, she also had a greenhouse, full of plants, which was a real draw to me as well as the usual roses, lupins, pond and vegetables. When we used to visit around Christmas there was always a lipstick red Amaryllis growing by the fire, all tied up with a knitting needle and wool – Mrs Barker was always knitting, she taught me to knit.
When I got my first flat it felt obligatory to buy an Amaryllis bulb to grow over the Christmas period and yes it was red and it grew ridiculously tall before flowering and unsurprising it ended up being tied to knitting needles to try to hold the flower head upright. Over the years I have had a love hate relationship with them being frustrated by the ridiculous height they seemed to grow with a stem not strong enough to support the large head. However, I often feel tempted by the £5 boxed bulbs you see available in supermarkets at Christmas.
This year I gave in again and bought one but instead of using the strange dry compost provided I decided to use a better quality compost and mix in some grit which seemed a better growing medium to me.
Interestingly within a day the latest version of the RHS The Garden magazine arrived with tips and advice on growing Amaryllis. Whilst I was using the right sort of compost I was using the wrong name! Amaryllis come from South Africa and can be grown outside by a sunny wall whereas what I was calling Amaryllis were in fact Hippeastrum and came from South America. I suspect it will take a long time before we all adopt the right name; after all many still call Pelargoniums Geraniums.
I was also interested to see the range of Hippeastrums available and was particularly taken with the species and cylisters
which for me were more attractive than the hybrids. Cylisters are a form of hybrid developed in the USA and Netherlands and they have narrower curved petals often with frilly ends. I loved their more elegant appearance. Being December there was limited availability on the nursery websites mentioned in the article but I tracked down a Hippeastrum ‘Sweet Nymph’ and a Hippeastrum ‘Evergreen’ on the Warmenhoven website.
The two bulbs were large and firm and full of promise. On reading the instructions that came with them I was surprised to learn that I needed to stand the bulbs in warm water. I had never come across this advice for bulbs before apart for anemone blanda corms. I suppose the idea is that the water will rehydrate the roots which would have dried out during the lifting and transportation of the bulbs.
The bulbs were planted, again in gritty compost in pots 2″ larger in diameter than the bulbs and unlike my previous efforts I added the stakes and supports from the start – no more knitting needles and wool! I planted the bulbs probably mid December and waited; within about 2 weeks they were shooting and growing strongly. Still following instructions I have watered them weekly with a weak feed.
I am stunned at the results. The Sweet Nymph starting flowering about two weeks ago with a wonderful flower head with four flowers on a shortish firm stem. Amazingly there are a further two buds beginning to grow so I should have flowers on it for at least another month or so – what value when you consider the bulb cost me around £7.00.
The Evergreen, one of the cylister varieties, took longer to flower and has produced taller stems. However, my son pointed out that it wasn’t in such a sunny position as the Sweet Nymph and I wonder if the reduced light has caused the stems to be drawn up. It has produced two stems each with three flowers in the most wonderful elegant greenish white with long elegant petals.
As for the ‘Amaryllis’ bought from the supermarket and planted a good two weeks before Sweet Nymph and Evergreen, well it has just started to shoot. There is about an inch of shoot showing and no real signs of it growing very fast. When you consider that they were planted in the same way with the exception of soaking the bulb base it begs the question would the cheaper bulb have also benefited from this treatment or is it a case of you get what you pay for?
Either way I will be buying from Warmenhoven again and soaking the bulb base before planting. I hope to keep Sweet Nymph and Evergreen going so I can reflower them next winter. I hope to seek out Hippeastrum Meringue and Hippeastrum papilio next year.