My regular readers will know I approach January with a certain degree of trepidation. It’s much easier to feel positive and optimistic when there are twinkly Christmas lights to brighten the short, dark days of winter. Mince pies and mulled cider help too. Then January arrives, the Christmas decorations come down, there’s the metaphorical tightening of belts as we recover from seasonal expenditure and the physical loosening of belts to cope with all that festive food. The sense of anticipation which accompanies the Winter Solstice ebbs away as I’m still scrabbling away in the dark when I get up on a morning.
Something that has made a difference for me this winter has been the decision to grow indoor bulbs. This has been the first time I have managed to get my act together, remembering to not focus purely on spring and the outdoors when I ordered my bulbs back in the autumn. On the list were hyacinths, Narcissi ‘Paper White’ and ‘Grande Soleil d’Or’ and Hippeastrum ‘Red Velvet’. I was a bit dubious about whether I would like them or not so I stuck a tentative toe in the water and I didn’t go mad with the order.
My reluctance partly stemmed from my dislike of probably the most popular of all bulbs to force, the hyacinth. They have always seemed funny plants to me. With their short stumpy stalks and fat stubby trumpet flowers they just look a little odd, particularly when they’re grown directly in the ground. Perhaps if the flowers were more delicate or their stems longer, but as they are they have never done it for me. If Narcissi ‘Paper Whites’ are the Kate Moss of the bulb world, all willowy and sylphlike, then hyacinths have always seemed, to me, like a Les Dawson character, solid and stocky. Then there’s their famous scent. Potent is how I remembered it. My mum used to grow them, and with several on one windowsill I remember them being so overwhelming that a particular room was off-limits whilst they were in bloom. But browsing through the bulb catalogue back in August I thought I should give them another go. And I’m rather pleased I did because I have several in flower now brightening up the January gloom and filling my house with a delightful perfume. My selection of variety may have something to do with my new-found love of hyacinths. I picked the white flowering ‘L’Innocence’ which not only looks more stylish and modern than some but it also seems a little more delicate and a little less dumpy. As for the scent, it isn’t overpowering at all, and with the very occasional patch of sunshine or heat from the radiators warming the air the aroma is wafting through the house. So for bulbs indoors I’m won over but I remain to be convinced by them as additions to my borders.
The hyacinths weren’t the first of the bulbs to flower with the Narcissi ‘Paper White’ timing their opening for my birthday in November. They are the most delicate of flowers with a sparkly sheen to their purest of white petals. They are also one of the most perfumed of narcissi. The jury is still out on whether I like their scent or not. Occasionally I would wander into the kitchen and sniff the air and then start looking around for the offending aroma, checking the soles of shoes, emptying the bin etc, only then would I realise it was the narcissi. I have heard it likened to the whiff of cat wee before. But then there would be other times when it would smell completely different and quite beautiful. I’ll grow them again because they are so easy and home-grown flowers for a November birthday are too good to ignore.
The winter blooms continued with my hippeastrum. Its huge bulb took a while to get going but then I dug out my heated propagator and sat the pot on the base of this. It wasn’t long before a green stalk emerged. It kept on growing and growing in a triffid-like manner. When it reached nearly 3ft it started to show signs of a flower bud. Slowly, four individual trumpet-shaped flowers appeared with them finally opening on Boxing Day. The variety ‘Red Velvet’ couldn’t have been better named or more suited to the Christmas period with its luscious and humongous flowers. It was fascinating to watch it grow because I had never tried it before, and there’s nothing like rekindling that child-like wonder by cultivating something new. I might look to see if there are any smaller varieties though as it’s tall and increasingly leaning flower stalk have given some cause for concern.
In the greenhouse I have a large pot of Narcissi ‘Grande Soleil d’Or’ and some crocus waiting to be brought indoors. The extra warmth inside will speed them into growth for an earlier show and keep up the succession of winter blooms. And, whilst I’m waiting for the days to lengthen and the weather to improve, my indoor flowers are providing some much-needed cheer.