Plants & Flowers

Decorating with festive flowers

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Plants & Flowers

Decorating with festive flowers

As much a sign of the season as holly berries and mistletoe, amaryllis and paperwhites add a touch of holiday cheer to windowsills and dinner tables.

Originally from the high Andes regions of Chile and Peru, amaryllis bulbs are now being bred in an amazing range of colours and forms from spidery, lemon-lime blossoms to double, butterfly blooms and giant, velvety red-petaled beauties. But the classics remain some of my favourites – it's hard to surpass the scarlet and red of Naughty Lady‚ the blushing pink of Appleblossom or the pistachio-throated white flowers of Green Goddess.

In the world of paperwhites, traditional types such as the intensely scented grandiflorus, with its flurry of snow-white blossoms, are hard to beat. There's also a look-alike called Ziva‚ that blooms a little earlier than grandiflorus, making it a better choice for last minute holiday decorating.

Nothing could be easier than growing elegant amaryllis and fragrant paperwhites. Selecting a container is the hardest step: it could be a simple terra cotta pot with a single amaryllis and a lacing of moss covering the soil, or a large Oriental cachepot holding a bouquet of paperwhites. Shallow baskets in merry Christmas colours or dramatic black matte also make good containers for paperwhites. Before planting, add a plastic liner to guard against water damage.

Amaryllis need a fairly deep pot to support their height, but one small enough so that the bulb fits snuggly – a 6" pot is ideal for smaller bulbs and 7" is perfect for the larger ones.

While paperwhites will grow in either shallow pans of gravel and water or in soil, amaryllis should be planted in potting soil. Here's how:

Potting amaryllis
1 Before planting, soak the roots of the bulb in water for several hours or overnight, taking care not to dampen the base of the bulb.

2 Fill half of the pot with soil mix (African violet potting mix works well), tamp down gently, then place the bulb root-side down onto the soil. The bulb should fit snuggly into the pot without touching the sides. Add more soil to the pot, leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. Water well.

3 Keep the soil barely moist until the first green shoots appear from the bulb.

4 Place in a bright south, east, or west-facing window, out of direct sunlight.

5 Unless your plant is one of the compact dwarf varieties, it will need support as it grows. Red dogwood twigs and twisted willow branches give good support as well as look attractive.

Planting paperwhites in water
1 Line a watertight container with decorative gravel, pebbles or glass beads.

2 Crowd a collection of paperwhite bulbs into the container, the cozier the better.

3 Add enough water to the container so that it reaches the roots of the bulbs without touching their base.

4 Keep in a dark place until green shoots appear.

5 Move to a sunny window.

6 As the plants grow, they'll lean toward the 1. To keep them straight and tall, turn the container slightly each day.

7 Top up the water level as required.

Planting paperwhites in soil
1 Fill a shallow container with a potting mix that includes a high ratio of peat moss, leaving enough space from the surface of the soil to the rim of the container to accommodate the depth of the bulbs.

2 Nestle a tight cluster of paperwhite bulbs into the soil, their sides lightly touching, the tips of their noses exposed above the soil, level with the container's rim.

3 Care for the paperwhites as in steps 4-6 above, keeping the soil moist, but not damp.


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Plants & Flowers

Decorating with festive flowers