House plants come into their own in winter, when they bring real cheer and life to indoors compared with an often drab and dreary world outside. By putting a few carefully selected seasonal plants together in a large container, a stylish and annual display can be created very quickly. How much glitter and tinsel to add is entirely down to personal taste!
An Evergreen Arrangement
The dark green tones of conifers and ivy show that their leaves are full of chlorophyll, and they are used to relatively shady positions, making them ideal for an indoor planter in winter. They will happily last through two or three months, including over the Christmas period, but will appreciate being potted up and moved outside in spring to recuperate (bring them back in again the following winter to repeat this temporary display).
What to Plant
Try using miniature or young conifer trees; those of a classic Christmas-tree shape are commonly sold relatively cheaply in supermarkets and garden centres in winter as baby Christmas trees and use young ivy (Hedera helix) plants.
Plant up a large bowl, putting one or more (odd numbers work best aesthetically) trees in the centre and filling around the edge and underneath with ivy plants.
An alternative would be to use a standard (lollipop-shaped) bay (Laurus nobilis), olive (Olea europaea) or rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) tree as the centrepiece, providing it can be displayed in a bright spot. Use multipurpose compost and water as required so that the compost does not dry out.
Using Forced Bulbs
A more colourful temporary display can be created using forced bulbs, though the timing can be quite varied, and it’s best not to rely on them being in bloom for a particular date.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) and paperwhite daffodils (Narcissus) are the two most commonly forced bulbs for mid-winter and are widely available either as dry pre-treated bulbs or ready-potted and growing. Both will have been subjected to a cold spell, and bringing them into a warm house then tricks the bulb into thinking it is spring and time to flower. See below for more details about these specific bulbs.
Pot up dry bulbs into a multipurpose compost; putting in as many as will fit in a single layer for the best display, as they will be split and replanted after flowering, and water as required.
Keep in the brightest, sunniest spot possible, although they can be moved once flowering to a better position. The warmer the room temperature, the faster the flowers will go over.
Facts About Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
Bulbs make rather good house plants, albeit temporary ones. This is a classic bulb, planted alone in a pot, and bought for Christmas displays. Usually red or white flowers, sometimes with several per stem. Leaves appear after the flower spike.
With its glossy leaves and stunning trumpet-shaped flowers, the amaryllis plant will bring brightness and colour to the dullest of winter days. And if planted at the correct time, will bloom at Christmas, a perfect addition to the celebratory table, alongside the roast turkey and mulled wine!
The plant originates from South Africa, and its correct name is Amaryllis belladonna, which is often grown outdoors in the UK, and it actually translates as a naked lady! The indoors variety is composed of over 90 species and is correctly termed as Hippeastrum, but most people call it amaryllis. The name hippeastrum is of Greek origin, translating as knight star, so called as the flower is said to resemble an ancient knight’s mediaeval weapon.
Amaryllis have actually been cultivated since the nineteenth century, and are mainly used as house plants during the winter, but can be left outside in the warmer summer months.
If buying from a garden centre or supermarket, the bulbs should be thoroughly checked to ensure they are firm and in good condition. Select the larger ones if possible, as they produce more flowers. Store in a cool, dry place until ready, otherwise, they may rot. If requiring them to be in bloom for Christmas, then the end of October is the ideal time to plant the bulbs. Once the flowers start to open, it is best to move the pot to a cooler position and water regularly, but sparingly for the best long-lasting results.
Facts About the Daffodil (Narcissus)
Specific daffodil varieties have been developed that are ideal for either forcing (such as “Paper White”) or small pots (“Tete-a-tete”). The name narcissus is the correct term for the daffodil family, and is Greek in origin, translating as numbness. This is a reference to the bulbs having a toxic substance, making them poisonous if consumed. In the past, they were actually used as a medicine to make people vomit, although this is not to be recommended!
The appearance of the daffodil is very distinctive, with its long, narrow stem, the inner cup of the flower (known as the corona), and its three petals. It is usually yellow or white, with the central corona occasionally being a different colour, depending on the variety. They are typically found in the Mediterranean, but some species are native to Asia and China. They are a popular choice of decoration for the Chinese New Year. It is the national emblem of Wales and is traditionally worn on St David’s day.
Narcissus plants are ideal for an easy to grow and maintain indoor Christmas display. The bulbs need to be planted in pots which allow for adequate drainage and can be grown from August to November, but the earlier, the better. Surprisingly, they can be grown just in a mix of water and pebbles, with no soil at all.
The blooms will appear between October and April. Once they have ceased flowering, they need to be dead-headed, as this stimulates seed production within the bulb. The leaves should be left alone, as they release valuable nutrients into the soil, ensuring the successful growth of the daffodil the following year.
Which plants would you recommend for a Christmas display?