Winter means nothing to the great trumpets of amaryllis flowers. These flashy blooms truly make the season bright as they put on their spectacular show indoors.
Amaryllis are big, bold and easy; you can grow your own from a handsome and satisfyingly solid bulb, or simply buy show-stopping cut flowers that will last for two weeks in a vase. They are so eager to bloom that the bulbs sold in garden shops, by florists and in grocery stores often have a flower spathe or stalk already poking up through the crinkly, oniony layers at the bulb’s thick neck. Each stem produces up to four showy, trumpet-shaped flowers. All they need is a little encouragement and a spot where they can shine.
“Some people have classic favorites that they order every year, and other people mix it up, like a surprise party,” says Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, owner of Scheepers, a mail-order bulb specialist. Van den Berg-Ohms plants dozens of amaryllis every year for herself and friends.
“American gardeners are experimenting with everything — they’re not just growing red amaryllis anymore,” she says. Amaryllis’s deep red blooms suit the season’s palette perfectly, but there are also pink, snow white and bicolored flowers, and others with lively contrasting stripes and swirls, or a sophisticated picotee trim.
Wholesale florists have sold amaryllis as cut flowers for years. Event designers have been steady customers, but the big blooms are catching on in retail flower markets, too. In Holland, “you see them in flower stands, and they are jaw-dropping — they are absolutely fabulous,” van den Berg-Ohms says. In the U.S., they’re all the more arresting because they are so unusual.
In florists’ shops, cut-flower amaryllis cost $10 a stem and up. If you buy stems with buds just beginning to open, you’ll be able to enjoy the flowers for two weeks or longer. Place the stems in water just an inch or two deep (this keeps the long stems from turning yellow and losing their strength). To keep the flowers fresh, trim an inch or two off the stem every few days and change the water. Move it to a smaller vase, if necessary. As you move to progressively smaller vases, simplify the arrangement of accompanying greenery, or take it out altogether.
The amaryllis bulbs sold in early winter — the ones that will bloom during the holidays — come from South Africa, where summer is just getting started. “They’re ready to pop out of dormancy now,” van den Berg-Ohms says. Amaryllis shipped from the Netherlands are no less spectacular, but they’re on a different schedule. They bloom during the winter, too, but not in time for Christmas. Van den Berg-Ohms recommends them as a great holiday gift, because watching them come into bloom is part of the experience. “It’s how you nurture yourself, so you will feel like you’re thriving over the winter,” she says. Dry bulbs cost $10 to $15.
Pre-potted bulbs (from about $15 to $70, depending on the pot) are a little more expensive than dry bulbs that you can plant yourself, but that’s just the price of convenience. Amaryllis are large plants, and the pots should be stable and sturdy. If you buy a pre-potted bulb in a plastic pot, place it in a cachepot, which will provide support as the amaryllis sends up its tall flower spike. Amaryllis do not need much light while they’re blooming, so you can place them wherever they look best. Move them to a bright spot after the flowers fade, to give the leaves a chance to develop: they’ll bloom again next year.
Choose a flower to suit your style: Big red trumpets are traditional and beautiful. White flowers with a thin red margin or bold red stripes have a crisp and tailored look. Extravagant double-flowering amaryllis are for extroverts. Miniature amaryllis are especially charming, and perhaps more suitable for small spaces, but you can still make a big statement with them, especially if you display a collection of miniatures in a single pot or in several small pots on a tabletop.
“There are so many different things you can do,” van den Berg-Ohms says. “It’s amazing how nature can create flowers like that. I’ve been growing them for years, and I still get blown away by them.”