(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2007. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas but please remember that authors of previously publilshed articles may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)
Many years ago, I received my first amaryllis as a Christmas gift from a landlady. I thought the gift was odd, especially considering there was a lovely flower pictured on the box and only an ugly white plastic pot inside. Since then I have come to think landlords who give Christmas gifts are odd. She must have been a rare, unappreciated breed, as I’ve never received a Christmas gift from a landlord or landlady since.
I had never heard of nor seen an amaryllis. I took the ugly white plastic pot out of the box, and it sat on the kitchen table with the rest of the clutter. I watered immediately, as the box instructions said to do, and promptly forgot it. As was my nature, the clutter accumulated unforgotten around the mysterious pot. I didn’t even pay much attention when it sprouted. After all, everyone knows that a sprout is a long ways from the picture on the box.
But one day I came home from classes and the sprout was over a foot tall. I could swear it wasn’t the day before. I searched frantically for the instructions, but they weren’t among the clutter. I watered frantically. If I forgot to water and ignored it and it still grew a foot, what did I have? I was blessed with a lovely orangish pale-stemmed blossom. Nothing so elegant would dine on human blood, so my visions of Little Shop of Horrors were placated.
Twenty years later I got an amaryllis in a box from my sister for my birthday. I was certain it would go better this time. I’m a gardener now, after all. I can grow anything. I’d even learned that Amaryllis is a bulb, and that its real name is Hippeastrum. I know what a genus, a species, and a cultivar are. I’ve seen PlantFiles where entering Amaryllis as the genus nets you 12 hits but the genus Hippeastrum has 12 pages. And I have a 'Red Lion'.
I kept the instructions this time. I tended my 'Red Lion' with the faith of Mother Teresa. I even d-mailed a DG friend who gave me instructions on how to keep 'Red Lion' alive past blooming in my Zone 5, and get him to bloom next year. I followed the instructions on the box to the letter, except that I threw out the fake dirt it came with in favor of the heavier potting soil suggested by my friend. Sometimes the ugly plastic pot doesn’t even have holes in the bottom and must be replaced in favor of one that does. I watered frequently when green began to show.
'Red Lion' bloomed ferociously as the picture above demonstrates. He was perfect on Christmas. He was a brilliant red, as his name suggested, earning his spot near the Christmas tree. I even propped up his flopping leaf onto the tree. When he finished blooming I admired his seed pods and let his stalk shrivel up. The instructions I had said it didn’t matter whether the stalk shriveled up or was cut off. I was cautioned, however, not to cut it off over the carpet, as there is a lot of moisture in that stalk. 'Red Lion' was loved. For a while. But then I forgot him. And forgot following the instructions.
Sue’s instructions specifically stated to set my Hippeastrum outside during the day for hardening off when the weather got nice. I forgot. I was supposed to leave him outside all the time when the night temperatures stayed at least in the high 40s. I didn’t. “Summer them in light shade,” said Sue, “so you don’t have to water so much.” I summered 'Red Lio'n on the kitchen counter dry as a bone. I was warned that the summer foliage might look a little ratty, but Red Lion had no new foliage at all. The instructions said to bring him in before it freezes and not to water until new growth started. Thirteen months after being surprised with pleasure in a box for my birthday, I found 'Red Lion' behind the cookie jar dry, sad, and very much dead.
I’m not telling my sister or Sue about that, and this year I’ll do better, even though I’ll have to buy my own pleasure in a box.
For more exotic Hippeastrum bulbs, forget the kit. For the likes of 'Lemon and Lime' you will purchase one bulb not found in any store, no matter how upscale, in the Midwest. Before I purchase an extraordinary and expensive Hippeastrum bulb, I need to keep a 'Red Lion' alive. 'Red Lions' are everywhere. Kits can include a bamboo box, reusable ceramic vase, or the ugly plastic pot, each reflected in the price. 'Mont Blanc', 'Apple Blossom', and 'Minerva' can be found easily as well, and different parts of the U.S. have slightly different stock. While I wonder if the bamboo box has holes in the bottom, the rest of the world wonders if I can remember to follow instructions.