Lucy Chang continues her past Gardener's Gate series of articles (President's Trowel) as she travels the world.
At this time of year, with Christmas round the corner, amaryllis (Hippeastrum cultivars) will be appearing in various forms (pre-packaged bulb primed for flowering, potted blooming houseplant, or bare bulbs) along with the other usual seasonal offering of poinsettias.
Traditionally potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Red Pearl'™)
Last April, while visiting the spring bulb displays at the Keukenhof gardens in Holland, I was fortunate enough to catch an amaryllis exhibition onsite. The variety of bloom colours, styles and shapes of many new amaryllis hybrids were amazing, especially the Cybister hybrids with their spidery looking flowers. What was most intriguing was a different method of culturing the bulb known as “dry-flowering” and yes, exactly that - amaryllis blooming without soil or water!
Apparently this is possible with pre-cooled bulbs—the bigger the bulbs the better. Pre-cooling also applies to potted amaryllis. Giving the bulb a cool (not chilled as in a fridge, but in a cool part of the basement at 55-65°F or 13–18° C and dry resting/dormant period will help trigger the flowering process. There are many web sites on selecting, purchasing, growing and culturing amaryllis, but I found the following sites most reliable and helpful for the indoor gardener. Check them out if you have problems with bringing your amaryllis bulb back to bloom, or are confused by conflicting advice on watering, fertilizing and appropriate potting.
Dutch Growers Garden Centre Saskatoon: http://www.dutchgrowers.ca/IG_amaryllis.html
University of Minnesota/Extension: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1233.html
White Flower Farm has many “workshop” type instruction/information on You Tube that would be great watching on one of those freezing housebound days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxPAtqvXaUY
The common name “amaryllis” in relation to the bulbs commercially available in bloom around Christmas or indoor over winter refers to the plants in the genus Hippeastrum, a native of Central and South America. The genus has about 90 species and over 600 hybrids and cultivars. The genus Amaryllis, of which there are only two currently known species, Amaryllis belladonna and A. paradisicola, is of South African origin. Both Amaryllis and Hippeastrum belongs to the plant family, Amaryllidaceae. Dutch growers have been in the forefront of cultivating Hippeastrum hybrids and have breeding outlets in India, the Netherlands and South Africa. Nowadays, Hippeastrum hybrids and cultivars can be sourced in India, United States, Australia, Japan and Israel as well.
Until the next trowel stop,
In spite of the rain, chilly temperature and dreary grey skies of the last few days, a wide splash of sunny yellows, warm oranges and reds are painted by modern cultivars of the old fashioned wallflowers (Erysimums) popularly planted here in civic beds, private and public gardens.
This warm cheerful virtue of the wallflower is fully captured in the red/gold themed cottage garden at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent. This plant thrives best against a wall, hence its common name of wallflower. Erysimum belongs to the same family (Brassicaceae) of cabbage and mustard. The wallflower cultivars are more attractive and come in a wider range of colours than the native species, which look similar to mustard flowers. Erysimum capitatum and E. asperum are North American species found from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
Wallflower is very easy to seed. Some gardeners find a higher success rate with germinating the yellow/orange strain than the purple/burgundy strain of wallflower. Germination takes about 7-10 days indoors. If seeded early enough (February or March) and planted out when the frost period is over, the plants should flower in the same year. Wallflower is best treated as an annual in our zone 3 gardens. Deadhead to keep the plant bushy and blooms will continue until the first frost. Some years when I failed to deadhead the wallflowers in the west facing bed by the foundation of my house, volunteer seedlings have appeared the following May. However, this late start gave them only a short flowering period.
Wallflower seeds are available in most garden outlets at this time of year. Check the annual bedding plant section for wallflowers at EHS Corporate Discounters. This year, Arch Greenhouse has Erysimum 'Cherokee Yellow' and E. 'Cherokee Scarlet' in six packs.
Until the next trowel stop,
What a pleasant surprise at this time of the year to see at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, England, a field of blue Camassias that reminded me of the small clump of blue Camassia quamash (also known as small camas) in my own Edmonton garden. The Kew specimen is a lighter blue than the quamash species so it may be the C. leichtlinii or C. cusikii species. Since the C. quamash is native to western North America, from BC and Alberta to California, it is the species hardy enough for our zone 3 garden.
C. quamash has grown in my garden for the last few years and blooms after the daffodils and tulips. Depending on the growing location, it may bloom at the same time as the daffodils or tulips.
If you are interested, check with EHS corporate discounters such as Salisbury Greenhouses or Ellerslie Gifts and Garden to see if they sell it along with bulbs in the fall. I acquired mine from Ontario through a mail order catalogue.