Plant bulbs in the coming weeks and you’ll have Christmas flowers
The huge, fleshy-rooted bulbs of hippeastrum are available in garden centres right now. These are one of the indoor pleasures of deep winter, producing trumpet flowers on stout stalks. Being almost guaranteed to flower, they make excellent gifts.
Hippeastrum, often erroneously known as amaryllis, come from South America. The first to be hybridised were H. reginae and H. vittatum by a Lancashire watchmaker in 1799, who gave plants to Liverpool’s Botanic Garden. More hybrids followed as more species were introduced. Breeding then moved to the Netherlands and the USA in the late 19th and 20th centuries, then to South Africa and latterly to Japan, India, Brazil and Australia.
The traditional, large-flowered types come in a range of colours, from vermillion-red, through shades of pink, orange and salmon tones to pure white, streaked or striped. Double-petalled forms have been bred with similar patterning. Other colours, such as pale yellow and lime have started to appear, largely through the use of species such as the butterfly hippeastrum H. papilio and narrow petalled H. cybister. Unfortunately very few hybrids are scented.
Plant bulbs six to eight weeks from the date you want them to flower, which means November if you want them in bloom for Christmas. Plant in a pot 5-7½cm (2-3in) wider than the bulb, leaving two thirds of the bulb exposed. Use a general-purpose compost or John Innes No 2, firm and water in. The bulb will produce a flower stem first, followed by strap-shaped leaves. After flowering, remove the spent stem. Keep the bulb moist and fed until late summer, then keep cool 15-18C (60-65F), allow the leaves to dry, then repot and start the cycle again.
This garden stalwart is pleasing to the eye and great for wildlife
Although perhaps considered a little bit overused, cotoneaster remains an indispensable garden plant, particularly at this time of year when they produce their characteristic red fruits, either studding the stems or hanging in copious clusters among the leaves.
Their impact is long lasting, whether the species are evergreen or deciduous. There are few woody plants with such a range of shape and form from the stature of small trees, especially if the lower branches are removed, to low creeping mats or tight globes suitable for use in gravel or rock gardens, such as ‘Little Gem’. Some species, such as C. salicifolius, gently weep like a willow, others mould themselves against the surfaces along which they grow. Some have stiff branching forms that provide architectural interest. Shoots of particular varieties such as C. suecicus ‘Juliette’ are grafted on stout cotoneaster stems to produce tree-like, weeping or topiary forms.
Cotoneaster is a member of the rose family, although it’s difficult to appreciate this with small-flowered species. The white or pink and white flowers which appear in early summer produce copious amounts of nectar and are a magnet for pollinators, which soon transfer pollen from plant to plant. They’re useful food plants for various types of moth and the berries are also winter fare for many birds, such as blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings.
Cotoneaster is an easy plant growing in sun or semi-shade in any moist, well-drained soil as long as it doesn’t become constantly wet, especially in winter. It can also be cut back quite severely in spring if it outgrows its space and can easily be trained and shaped so it can meld into any garden style.
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