Plant bulbs in the coming weeks and you’ll have Christmas flowers

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'

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.