COLOUR TO LIFT WIN­TER’S GLOOM

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

In the empty space left by Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions post Twelfth Night, I feel the need for some­thing dra­matic. En­ter stage left, a large pot of amaryl­lis ‘Green God­dess’, like gaudy loud­speak­ers, trum­pet­ing their charms. “Way over the top” is of­ten the re­ac­tion to some of the bi-coloured dou­ble di­vas, but I can un­der­stand ex­actly why their plant hunter shouted with joy when he dis­cov­ered amaryl­lis on a Chilean moun­tain top. Con­tro­versy even reigns over their nam­ing, but it was agreed at the 14th In­ter­na­tional Botan­i­cal Congress in 1987, that “Amaryl­lis” should be used for cul­ti­vars of the genus Hip­peas­trum, sold to flower in­doors. Th­ese big, fat bulbs with enor­mous crim­son, dark red, white and cream frilly lily-like flow­ers are the re­sult of com­mer­cial hy­bridi­s­a­tion be­tween South Amer­i­can and South African plants, where they grow in the wild. I like to see amaryl­lis planted in fives or sevens; singly they look out of pro­por­tion to their pot. I grow mine in an old ter­ra­cotta dough bowl with plenty of drainage holes, filled with John Innes No 2 com­post light­ened with per­lite or grit, be­cause they hate a soggy bot­tom. When you buy bulbs, soak their roots overnight in a jam jar half-full of wa­ter, but keep the bulb dry. Planted any time be­tween Oc­to­ber-Jan­uary, the bulbs will flower 6-8 weeks later, so I planted mine three years ago in Novem­ber to have them flow­er­ing now. Amaryl­lis like a snug fit in their pots – with maybe a thumb’s width dis­tance from the edge – but plenty of root space, that’s why pot­ted sin­gles need to be sited with care; if they are top heavy they will top­ple. They like to show their shoul­ders above soil level. Place your pot some­where light, warm (70F/21C) and draugh­t­free. Amaryl­lis will flower for nearly two months, es­pe­cially if you move your pot some­where cooler as the buds burst. As their stems start to snake their way up through Home help: clock­wise from top, while amaryl­lis Merengue’ stands tall to help lift the win­ter mood, wintersweet, white hy­acinths and can all add a splash of colour Bat­ten­ing down the hatches and se­cur­ing the tun­nel cloches with tent pegs in my veg­etable plot, over win­ter sal­ads, pars­ley, sor­rel, gar­lic chives and chard, so I can still rus­tle up a plate­ful or two in be­tween show­ers. the soil, they should be staked and turned reg­u­larly or they’ll grow to­wards the light. Wa­ter as the soil dries, but make sure you don’t leave their feet wet in their saucer. Feed fort­nightly with tomato fer­tiliser. When past their best, move from cen­tre stage, cut the flower stems but let the leaves die back nat­u­rally. The plant stores nu­tri­ents in its leaves, so keep well fed and wa­tered. I move mine out­side once the dan­ger of frost has past, then into a dark shed in Septem­ber to lie dor­mant un­til Novem­ber when it’s come­back time, fed and wa­tered, to re­sume their star­ring role in my kitchen. Re-pot ev­ery two or three years af­ter flow­er­ing, and there’s a chance your bulbs could have a long ca­reer – up to 75 an­nual per­for­mances. Look for bulbs at jacque­samand­intl.com, which has the best se­lec­tion, also jpark­ers.co.uk and van­meuwen.com – I loved spiky orange ‘Merengue’, green-and-yel­low ‘Sul­phur Queen’, starry red ‘Lima’, rose pink ‘Ger­vase’ and ma­roon vel­vet ‘Black Pearl’. Amaryl­lis cut flow­ers can be bought from florists. To make them last, in­sert a cane up the stem, fill the stem with wa­ter and twist a rub­ber band around the end. Pre­serve with two ta­ble­spoons each of white vine­gar and su­gar, and half a tea­spoon of bleach per quart of wa­ter. Change the wa­ter ev­ery three days and snip off ½in of stem. Scar­let blooms look lovely with red dog­wood stems and rose­hips, and the white ladies shine with cedar branches and eu­ca­lyp­tus twigs. I planted a large pot of Nar­cis­sus ‘ Cheer­ful­ness’ that’s bloom­ing by my front porch. Prop up with pussy wil­low stems to keep them from get­ting windswept, or brought into the house. White hy­acinths pot­ted in Oc­to­ber will also fill the house with per­fume. Orange calla lilies, cy­cla­men and climb­ing Hoya carnosa – the waxy flow­ers are all per­form­ing now. Slim pick­ings from the gar­den, but twigs of hazel catkins, Vibur­num bod­nan­tense, wintersweet and witch hazel, with arum leaves and ivy berries in dif­fer­ent­sized glass vases ranged along the man­tel­piece, will lift the heart and raise the spir­its. How to gar­den in all weath­ers,

‘ Cy­cla­men­prim­u­laceae

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