Hip hip eastrum!

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I hardly know a plant as forgiving as my hippeastrum. I can treat it as meanly as I please, and yet it will still bear the most beautiful blooms year after year. It’s rather like a pet dog: never a trace of resentment, no matter how cross you are or how much it is ignored. If only all plants were this magnanimous!

After my hippeastrum has flowered, I cut back the stalk and continue to water and feed it, and on the first of June I put it outside into the garden along with all my other houseplants for their summer holiday.

This is where the bad times begin for this poor neglected plant. While my other house plants revel for four months in the warm sun and gentle rain, this poor hippeastrum has a miserable time. Beloved by slugs and snails, the first thing that happens is that all its leaves are instantly eaten off. It then spends a great deal of energy fruitlessly trying to grow new leaves only for them to be attacked as they emerge from the bulb, rather like Banksy’s Girl With Balloon being slowly shredded as it exited the frame. Therefore it has to go in the cold frame, where there are fewer molluscs around, though still enough to do  damage. The cold frame is not in such a sunny position, and it tends to get rather forgotten in there, especially on my watering rounds. By September, when it is supposed to go into its rest period, it is has already been as dry as dust for three months and has no leaves to speak of.

At the end of October, all the houseplants come indoors again. Except that last autumn I forgot to bring the hippeastrum indoors, as it was in the cold frame. I recall that I didn’t bring it indoors until mid-December (gasp). But did it hold a grudge, this tropical beauty? No! It immediately began producing its fresh green strappy leaves, followed a couple of months later by its fabulous bloom.

So my apologies for your rough treatment, dear hippeastrum, and three cheers for your beautiful blooms.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page to see what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have put in a vase for today. Although this clay pot is most definitely not a vase, I am sure that Cathy will as forgiving as my hippeastrum and allow me to pretend that it is.

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Ceci n’est pas un Amaryllis

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Do you ever forget the names of plants? I do, frequently. I have long conversations in my head that go along the lines of: “What is the name of that dratted plant? It’s on the tip of my tongue, I know it begins with an … M . It definitely begins with an M. Oh yes, it’s an Amaryllis. I knew it had an M in it somewhere.” So it’s twice as hard when said plant has two names, and if I can remember Amaryllis, I can never remember the other name, and vice versa.

At a time of year where there is little floral colour about that hasn’t been shipped in from the Netherlands, these beauties cheer us up no end. The kudos of effortlessly producing such flouncing, extravagant trumpets from a bulb in a pot is too good to pass over, so it’s no surprise that so many of us have at least one potted Amaryllis at home. Except here’s the thing: none of us has a potted Amaryllis at home.

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Ceci n’est pas un Amaryllis. It’s not even a picture of an Amaryllis. What we have in here is in fact a Hippeastrum, except everyone calls them Amaryllis, including purveyors of said bulbs who should know better. A true Amaryllis is a lily-like native of South Africa, and the Hippeastrum that we know and love is from South America. Their taxonomy was under dispute, hence the confusion, until the 14th International Botanical Congress of 1987 settled the matter for once and for all. Thirty years later, Sarah Raven’s website is still declaring that ‘Amaryllis are a tender bulb from Brazil and so need to be grown inside’ without a hint of remorse. Thankfully the RHS, that guardian of botanical rectitude, deals swiftly with our confusion by noting that Hippeastrum are ‘commonly, but incorrectly, known as Amaryllis’. That’s Ms Raven told, though she may be forgiven since she offers such a wide range of beautiful varieties as well as detailed growing advice.

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Many people throw their Hippeastrum bulbs away after they have done their flowering, which is a shame as they can perfectly well be kept year after year with a little care and effort.

Once the flowers have faded (and they die beautifully), the old flower stem should be cut off just above the nose of the bulb, and the plant should be kept fed and watered until the nights are warm enough for it to be put outside. I usually wait for days no less than 14 degrees and nights no less than 10 degrees before putting my tender houseplants outdoors. (Such temperatures usually occur by June for us in coastal Edinburgh.) Once outdoors, it just remains to keep the plant fed and watered in a bright but not too sunny spot, well protected from molluscs. Mine lived in our cold frame for most of last summer, as it proved simply too delicious for the local slug population.

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In late summer, the old leaves can be cut back and the bulb put into dormancy by placing in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks before bringing back indoors to ensure flowering by Christmas. Alternatively, the bulb can be brought back indoors when the night temperatures are starting to drop to below 9 or 10 degrees, and feeding and watering restarted to allow flowering to occur a little later in early spring. The bulb can be repotted every two or three years in well draining but rich compost, always in a pot that is just a little bigger than the bulb itself.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. Do visit her page and see the flowers that she and many garden bloggers across the world have brightened their houses with today.

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