I am not very good with houseplants. Any green fingers I might have fail me at the door and I have managed to murder many spider plants, money plants and any plant best suited to living inside over the years. I have also fallen foul of the most abused houseplant of all, the Poinsettia. Sold by the ton and often dead by the time they have spent an hour in their new home, these plants are however a firm Christmas favourite. I understand from John Leach at Prior Park Garden Centre that the best way to care for these is to introduce them slowly into the warm – a minimum of 13 degrees. As a native of Mexico, they hate the cold, and they are not keen on being overwatered either. Beware of buying them from shops or petrol stations, which store them outside, as they most certainly will have already begun to deteriorate.
Amaryllis or Hippeastrum are probably my favourite Christmassy flower with great big dramatic flowers on huge stalks, and in some amazing colours. They also work well as cut flowers as they last so long. The bulbs are available now to buy but you can also buy ready-planted ones.Plant the bulbs in a compost mix of peat and perlite, and use a pot which is 2.5 cms wider than the bulb, leaving a third of the bulb showing. Feed as soon as the shoot begins to show and water one or twice a week, but don’t allow the bulb to stand in water.
I do love highly scented bulbs in the house, in the form of Narcissi ‘Paperwhite’ and Hyacinths. Obviously it’s too late in the year to plant these now, but they can be bought already potted up and in bud and are a cheery way to bring the outdoors in. You can buy Narcissi ready-potted from Prior Park Garden Centre as well as other suppliers in small pots with two or three bulbs in. If you buy several pots, these can be transferred into a much larger container packed in tightly adding some extra compost and some grit, tuck in some hazel twigs to support them, or you could use any delicate twiggy support such as Birch. You could also decorate the twigs with some tiny Christmas decorations if you want, and use as a centrepiece on your table.
The gorgeous scent of Hyacinths cheers me up every year, and I can’t get enough of them. They are easy to look after, and hard to kill unless left totally uncared for! There are lots of ways to grow them, although by now, it’s a bit late for planting them or growing in water. It is tempting to use potted bulbs to put into hyacinth jars but they tend not to have the root growth that they need and constantly flop over. I speak from experience on this one! Hyacinths will benefit from support in pots as once they flower the sheer weight of their heads tends to make them bend, I often use chopsticks stuck into the pot to give them some support for single flowers, but a mesh of twigs looks good and particularly if in a large group. After they have finished flowering plant them out in the garden in groups and enjoy them for years to come.
Cyclamen persicum planted into terracotta pots is another way to perk up your house come the dreary January days. In eyeball scorching colours, these are originally from Turkey and can cope with being indoors but need a cool-ish room with no draughts. Water sparingly onto a saucer rather than directly onto the plant as this can rot the corm. I particularly like the white ones, but they do come in shades of pink and red.
Lastly the most glamorous and showy of the winter indoor plants has to be the Cymbidium. This orchid is easy to care for and has long stems with beautiful exotic flowers, again, keep in a cooler part of the house and water sparingly. Put it outside in the garden in the summer and this will stimulate the flowers to grow again in winter.
January need never be gloomy again!