At the beginning of 2014, I was handed a Hippeastrum bulb (often called Amaryllis) and asked to plant it in an Oxford garden. Hippeastrums are tender, originating in tropical and sub-tropical South America, and would die outside so I offered to take it home with me instead to see if I could get it to flower again and this was agreed on.
Once home, I planted it with the top third of the bulb showing in a pot that allowed about 2.5cm of space between the bulb and the pot edge, as Hippeastrums prefer to be snug. The compost contained loam, for better drainage. The two limp leaves were supported against nearby plants so they didn’t droop any more and could get the sun. This done, it was given enough water to moisten the compost but not drench it, then set on a sunny windowsill.
I wasn’t especially optimistic, and not sure that I even liked Hippeastrum, but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of giving a plant a new lease on life so this became a new project. The bulb had sat in a container with no drainage and was water-logged. It had two or three small roots and a one small, limp leaf, but plants want to grow and the bulb didn’t disappoint for within a couple of weeks it had put up a new leaf and more followed. The pot was turned twice a day so it got even sunlight.
By June, six firm green leaves arched from the bulb and the weather had warmed sufficiently that I felt confident enough for it spend the summer in the greenhouse, where it would live with other plants in the warm and humid environment that tropical plants prefer. Apart from keeping it watered and feeding it occasionally, I left it alone until the nights cooled in September and then it came indoors again and we went back to the turning twice a day routine.
Over the cool, dark winter months, the leaves gradually turned yellow and wilted and I cut them off until all were gone and then I let the bulb dry out for a few weeks. At the start of January, it was time to wake it up again but there is little light in January in the UK, and this house seldom reaches temperatures of over 20C, so I watered the pot and set it under a bright desk lamp where, after a few weeks, a tiny sliver of green emerged from the bulb and then another until it had four new leaves. By now, it was too big to live under the desk lamp so I moved it to a windowsill again.
In February, another green shoot pushed out of the bulb alongside the leaves and it was with some excitement that I realised it was a flowering stem. This event prompted me to move the pot from room to room twice a day, to make full use of warmth and daylight. Very slowly, the stem lengthened and the flowering bud swelled. We were due to visit family in the middle of March and flowering looked imminent, but our house tends to be rather cool and gloomy, so it came with us and spent a sunny long weekend on a windowsill in Hampshire.
Back at home, over the next ten days, it suddenly put on a spurt of growth and finally I was rewarded with two huge trumpet-shaped blooms in the most glorious rich red-orange and another bud is swelling nicely.
It is a small but thrilling achievement and hopefully one to be repeated.