That thick layer of snow outside hasn’t dampened my garden spirits one bit. On the contrary, after perusing the seed and plant catalogs that have been piling up in my mailbox, I’m inspired to fill my windowsills with blooming color. And to me, amaryllis look best right around now, when the days are slowly growing longer and the desire for a little outdoor action makes everybody a little loopy. The huge trumpet-shaped blossoms of amaryllis have an almost otherworldly appearance…and they are surprisingly easy to grow indoors. Amaryllis are tender bulbs with tropical origins; they have been bred by the Dutch to produce vigorous three-foot-tall stems that bear 10-inch blossoms in red, white, peach, green, salmon, striped, and even polka-dotted. There are even variegated (the foliage), miniature, and pointy-petaled cultivars.
Bulbs potted up shortly after the new year will be in full splendor well before the vernal equinox on March 20th (it takes about six to eight weeks after planting for the bulbs to actually bloom). Before I moved to Iowa, I had some three dozen amaryllis bulbs, collected over the years, that I’d overwinter in the basement of the brownstone where I lived in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. There’s no reason to toss out an amaryllis once it’s done blooming since they’re a cinch to get to bloom again the following year. After your amaryllis has finished blooming, treat the strap-like foliage just like any other houseplant until it is warm enough to move out to the garden for the summer. Come September, move them into a cool, dark spot and allow them to dry up and drop their leaves. Then, a couple of months before you want blooms on your windowsill, start the indoor forcing process all over again (I usually repot by bulbs with fresh potting soil and time-release fertilizer for extra oomph). I also like to provide the stalks with added support by tying them to a stake; this helps them hold their heavy heads—usually three to four massive flowers each—upright.
Last fall, our friends at Longfield Gardens sent me a selection of their amaryllis bulbs to add to my personal collection. They sent me ‘Elvas’, and ‘Nymph’, and ‘Vera’, and ‘Magic Green’. That’s ‘Elvas’ and ‘Nymph’ blooming their heads off in my breakfast nook this morning. ‘Elvas’ has broad white petals with painterly, cardinal-red brushstrokes. ‘Nymph’ is a gorgeous double amaryllis with layers of glistening white petals that feature delicate traceries of red. The center radiates a soft, lemon-lime glow. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that?
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