Saturday, 7 May 2011

A holiday for a flower

As I have mentioned in one of my comments on another blog, I have an Amaryllis that must be nearly thirty years old. We were given it one Christmas around 1982 and it flowered beautifully that year. I found it fascinating because when the flower stalk arrives, you can almost see it grow. It put on about an inch every day and then finally four huge blooms appeared. I was instantly smitten by it and decided that I would try to nurture it so that it would bloom the following year. It had been the general opinion of my family and circle of friends and acquaintances that these packaged bulbs that turned up in the shops before Christmas were rather ephemeral and were usually chucked out with the Christmas decorations on twelfth night.

Twelfth night had more significance when I was a child because on that night the decorations were taken down and burned along with the Christmas tree, on the assumption that it brought bad luck to keep them after that date. We all made our own paper chains from strips of coloured paper before Christmas and they were not something you wanted to keep nor would they be in a fit state to reuse and burning was an accepted way of disposing of combustible waste.
This may sound very wasteful now, since the new generation of adults have re-invented Salvage and now call it recycling, but in those days much of our day to day stuff was re-usable, milk bottles, not cartons dish cloths, not kitchen rolls, towelling nappies that were washed and reused and wood and paper ash was dug into the garden to treat the soil. As well as all this, Salvage, paper and old clothes, metal and glass was collected regularly by the Rag and Bone man.
More recent paperchains arrive pre-gummed.  
We used a big pot of paste and a brush to stick ours together and I would get in a real mess with mine.
Partly because of the twelfth night tradition, no one seemed to expect that their Christmas Amaryllis would bloom again the next year, so defying all my friends and family’s wisdom, I looked up how to treat them and found that they would last for several years if you treated them correctly. Following the guidelines I managed to get it to flower again the next three or four Christmases.
For some reason it got later and later each year and eventually stopped flowering altogether. Disappointed I waited each year and as year followed year with no bloom, I experienced an increasing sense of failure, perhaps they did not last very long. 
However, after some thought, I decided that maybe it had grown larger and needed a bigger pot, so I replanted in in a new one and added some fertiliser and waited.
A few weeks later it went mad, growing a new set of leaves and it then sprouted a bud which shot up in the amazing way these things grow and I waited with impatience for the new blooms to appear.

That must have been around about 1985/6, because we had been taken on a small black Labrador/border collie cross, (free to a good home) female puppy that we had named Lucy. When she was just about eight or nine months old and very bouncy, Lucy had come to believe that she was a very fierce dog whose response to potential burglars was to bounce around in an excited manner barking loudly at anyone she could see, including us. When one morning someone came to the front door, using her infallible self taught technique to deter burglars, she bounced round the room and onto the windowsill where the plant was and knocked the rather fragile head off.
I was not pleased, it had been so long in blooming again and the ‘blooming’ dog had destroyed it before it had a chance to come out out.
I did not strangle the dog there and then and we were eventually able to train her not to bounce and bark when we had callers, but she always had the last word. She would hide behind the settee, in order to avoid seeing the visitor and make the sort of muffled wuffing noise of a dog that could not quite handle the idea of silence, when all her instincts were urging her to let rip.

A more mature Lucy
Despite Lucy’s act of decapitation, the amaryllis recovered and the next year it bloomed again and from then on, with almost total regularity, it came out each year, although never at Christmas any more, only missing a couple of times until recently.
The Amaryllis in its original pot
Lucy died in 1999 at the age of thirteen, not too bad for a small dog. Having a dog pass away is always a sad event, even one that nearly destroyed your favourite flower. She had been my sole companion for a few years since my first wife died and so I was somewhat more affected by her passing and remember exactly when she died. This has allowed me to be fairly certain of the age of the amaryllis.

Re potting the amaryllis became a regular job every few years, getting a slightly larger pot for it and each time it would put on a spurt of growth and reward me with a larger than usual blossom.
Despite a recent re-potting, for the last five years the ancient plant has refused to bloom and I had come to believe that it had reached the end of its life and it was finally too old to flower. I had not got around to retiring it to the compost heap and sending it to the great flower pot in the sky, because I was putting it off. After all it had been with me for a long time.
The very day we were going off for a week in Stratford upon Avon, I saw that a new bud was coming out. An amaryllis is very fussy about watering; too much at the wrong time and it dies, but it needs a lot when it starts to bloom and I knew that if we went off with it just starting to bloom, I would probably find a dead plant when we got back.
By chance we were going to stay in a self-catering house in Stratford, and so the only thing I could do was take it with us. This makes it the only plant I have ever taken on holiday, but it seemed to like the change and survived and a few days after we got home it flowered properly for the first time in five years.

The new blooms


  1. just wrote a long post that my computer decided to lose... So this time I'll just say what a lovely amaryllis!

  2. So funny to take a plant on vacation with you. And you gave yours such tender loving care, whereas we just stuck ours in the ground and forgot about it. Lucy looks wonderful and SO much like my Rip! Funny -- if I ever get another cat( and there are certain little hints that I may) I had thought of calling it Lucy. Now I may decide on that in the interests of keeping it in the family.

    Thanks for your prompt email reply. Too bad your not coming over our way. I'm not the greatest hostess in the world but at least you would have place to stay.

  3. Chris, Slight difference in climate here, an amaryllis would never last through winter if it was out of doors, so it has to be a house plant. Yes Lucy the cat, sounds right.

  4. Your post brought back some memories, as usual, snafu. I remember the rag and bone man coming round in his wagon, when we lived in Flamborough. We little ones had been warned to stay away from him....a rather scruffy, dirty little man. Interestingly, we still have a rag and bone man coming around, here, only he drives a pretty snazzy truck and is very selective in what he picks up -- only collects metal. We had put out for the trash an old vanity from a bathroom reno, thinking someone may pick it up and use it, as it wasn't in too bad a shape. But he came by and smashed it to get the faucets out - a nice hunk of metal!

    That's so funny about Lucy's restraint, and yes, she does look a LOT like ChrisJ's Rip. You must have missed her tremendously.

    I commend you on your tenacity in taking your Amaryllis on vacation with you - glad it paid off!

  5. What a lovely story. It shows the dedication you have - keeping with the plant when others would have given up - and that blooming flower as a reward. :)

    That's a lovely picture of Lucy, what a gorgeous looking dog.

  6. That is what I call dedication to duty, Snafu. I've had one that lasted five years, but thirty years is amazing and it looks glorious. As with Kathy, I admire your tenaciousness. x