The clocks have gone back and there’s no getting away from the fact that winter is just around the corner. Much as I love snuggling up in front of the fire, the slow-cooked stews and frosty winter walks, I find these coming months a slog. I know that I wouldn’t appreciate spring half as much if I didn’t have to endure winter first, but even so, I’m already pining for the lighter nights. One way I’ve found that helps me forget my winter blues is to keep on growing. The sight and scent of home grown flowers on my desk or the kitchen windowsill does a huge amount to lift the spirits on a gloomy winter’s day.
Back in September I planted up some specially treated hyacinths and a huge hippeastrum bulb so that I would have flowers in December. It’s still possible to buy bulbs that can be grown indoors – try bulb specialists like Peter Nyssen and Bloms, cut flower specialist Sarah Raven or your local garden centre. Look for hyacinths specifically for forcing, not ones that you’d plant up in the garden, paper white narcissi and hippeastrums (these are often labelled as amaryllis). Plant the paper whites now and you might have some in flower in time for Christmas. The others probably won’t flower until January, but they’ll be a lovely way to brighten up the house once the decorations have been packed away.
Plant them up into pretty pots filled with bulb fibre, with about a half to one-third of the bulb poking out above the compost and give them a bit of a water. The hippeastrum and paper whites can go straight on to a bright, warm windowsill where they’ll shoot away. Keep the compost moist but don’t water too much. The hyacinths need a period of about six weeks in the dark to allow their roots to develop. Plant them up in the same way as the paper whites then pop them somewhere cool but frost-free and dark – a garage or cellar is ideal. Check on them every week or so and water sparingly to keep the compost just moist. You should start to see shoots appear. When these are about 2.5cm (1in) tall move the containers to a bright windowsill.
The flowers stalks of these bulbs may get leggy and floppy, so forage in the garden or your local woods for some pretty branches or stems that can act as supports – birch, willow and dogwoods all work really well. Push them into the compost and use natural twine to secure the flower stems in place.
You can keep the hippeastrum after it has finished flowering. Give it a feed with a balanced fertiliser or seaweed feed every couple of weeks throughout spring and summer and it will come back into flower the following winter. The hyacinths can’t be forced again but can be planted out into the garden in spring. Plant the bulbs deeply, about 3 times the depth of the bulb, this will mean burying some of the leaves but this is fine. The paper whites can’t be planted outdoors as they won’t survive the cold outside and they may take several years to flower again indoors, so treat these as annual and replant new bulbs each autumn.