It’s time for amaryllis, or lily as it is commonly known. Two flowers bloomed in the balcony of our house just the other day. Enough to make you want to wait for them all year, overlook the tape-like leaves that aren’t much of an aesthetic delight and even take a little care of them.
Amaryllis in Greek means sparkling. Quite apt, you’d think, as you look at these beautiful, bold trumpet-like flowers. Most have a delightful fragrance. When in bloom, the stunning amaryllis makes a great gift. And now, nurseries are smartening up to the idea and even give them to you in fancy pots and wicker baskets.
I have seen some of the most beautiful and profuse amaryllis in Kalimpong while visiting horticulturist Satyam Pradhan at his farm near the Relli river. The amaryllis was growing in wild, gay abandon at the farm. His botanist father, orchid specialist U.C. Pradhan says, they plant less of them since they restrict themselves to “unusual species and cultivars as the Dutch have literally flooded the Indian market”. One of the most beautiful blooms at the farm is named Indira, after a paediatrician friend of the Pradhans’, Indira Bhattacharya. Recalls Pradhan: “She is a very special lady, and was the guest of honour during the Kalimpong Flower Show way back in the 1970s. She admired the collection of the newly flowered hybrid developed by my father Badri N. Pradhan and my cousin Tek Bahadur.” An apt tribute since Dr Bhattacharya personally nurtures a garden that is a veritable Eden at her centuries-old cottage in Kalimpong.
Although amaryllis seems to grow wild in most places, we’ve not had much luck with repeats. And so, I requested Pradhan for advice. Well, as the first blooms nod among the last of the winter flowers on our balcony, here are his that “keep them happy and flowering every year!”
• Use a 6” diameter pot about 7-8” deep for each bulb. Larger specimens can be plated in 10-12” diameter pots. Sharply tapered or shallow pots are out, since amaryllis needs space for root growth. I have been told by a gardening enthusiast that I had given the bulb too much space! Amaryllis, apparently, enjoys a snug home. Of course, the tub should be able to take the weight of the stalk and the flowers!
• Make sure the bulb has enough drainage. Most bulbs don’t like waterlogging and show their protest by rotting.
• Use equal amounts of potting mix, peat humus (or moss), perlite (a volcanic rock that improves aeration and drainage) or vermiculite (a mineral that makes the compost lighter; both available at gardening stores), and coarse sand. Too complicated? Request your nearest nursery to pot it for you.
• When you nest the bulb, half-fill the tub with soil. Then, place the bulb so that the neck of the bulb rises above the rim of the pot. Water well. Stand it in a sunny place. Don’t water immediately thereafter. Of course, in a very dry place such as Delhi, you may have to wet it once in a while with a mild sprinkle though ideally, it should be ignored till the foliage appears. Once the leaves appear, it needs to be watered.
• Remove the flower stalk as it shows withers. Feed the bulb regularly after that since it has depleted much of its strength. “Keep watering and feeding till August, and begin withholding watering from September,” advises Pradhan. Remove the leaves as winter sets in or as they begin to wilt.
• Begin watering again around the end of winter and add an inch of new soil on top.
• Once the leaves pop out, transfer the pot to a sunny spot. Water regularly.
• One last tip: If you are planting them anew, plant bulbs at intervals of a couple of weeks or 10 days to stagger the flowering!
And finally, one word of advice from another bulb aficionado: don’t fuss over them!