Hartley Magazine

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You may call it fluke, or happening-to-have-been-at-the-garden-centre-at-just-the-right-time, but I’m going to call it meticulous planning and green fingers. Yes, for the first time ever, I have a hippeastrum in flower for Christmas, and even some other forced bulbs in flower in the greenhouse too, just like you are meant to have.

I’m never entirely sure about these lolloping beasts, if I’m honest. Though I am quite enjoying the subtle colouring of this Hippeastrum ‘Salmon’ I planted a couple of months ago, it really is the only subtle thing about it. The thing is huge and unwieldy, and has had to be propped up against a window to prevent it from launching itself across the kitchen whenever a small child thunders past (fairly often). This is partly because the stem has got a little leggier and drawn up than it really should have. The trick to preventing this problem – apparently – is to grow it in bright light and to turn it occasionally, so that it grows stocky and sturdy. But really, this is December. There is no bright light.

I think I did as well as I could. I started it off in the greenhouse and then as the weather got colder moved it to the very slightly heated mini greenhouse, so it was getting as much light as it physically could, considering the current tilt of the earth’s axis. Then indoors it came but up onto a top floor, south-facing window, and given a little twist whenever I remembered so that it didn’t lean too heavily in one direction in search of those elusive rays. And yet still it is a lumbering, top-heavy giant of a thing and I have no idea how it is meant to be incorporated into some sort of festive display. Twine some tinsel up its giraffe’s neck of a stalk? Push a couple of candles into the compost far, far below the flowers? No, I think I will just let it stand as a testament to my horticultural prowess and turn my attention to my other forced bulbs.

Most of these are not yet flowering, and are unlikely to be in time for showing off over Christmas, but there are two bowls of little narcissus that are ready to go, if only I can keep them cool enough that they still look good on the day. A table centre piece is an odd concept and one I imagine most of us don’t ever even consider entertaining for 364 days of the year. Come Christmas day it suddenly seems like just the thing to take a pot of spring bulbs that have been forced into flower early either by chance or by design, gussy them up with tinsel, candles and a bit of fake snow and plonk them into the middle of the table, and I say go with that urge. The great thing about the narcissus, iris reticulata and crocuses that I have coming along is that they are short, and so you will be able to see your relatives across the table and not concern yourself with them toppling into the sprouts (plants, not relatives).
Forced plants need to be put out to pasture after they have been paraded about your dining room table. There is a certain stress and strain put on plants asked to perform out of season, and the best thing you can do for them is to plant them out somewhere to gently recover from their moment in the limelight. Hippeastrums are excepted of course. Being tender things they will live on indoors to shoot and topple another year.