In the Garden:
Amaryllis and clivia are two easy-to-grow flowering houseplants to give others or yourself.
A Gift of Flowers
Among the worst of my many tragic flaws is the habit I have of seeing a wonderful present for someone, then saying to myself, "Oh, I would appreciate that much more than he or she would. I'll buy it for myself." Never does this come up more than when considering buying plants for people at the holidays. Most of my friends are non-gardening types, so many of the plant gifts would probably have a limited lifetime. No doubt, you are much more generous than I, but whether you consider flowering plants for yourself or others, they are a special gift that brings beauty to the home and heart.
Try to match the gift to the recipient in terms of the kind of care the plant needs. If the person keeps their home on the cool side, azaleas and cyclamen are good choices; both also tolerate indirect bright light. Christmas cactus is very easy to grow but it needs bright sunlight. The fruit on Jerusalem cherries are harmful if consumed, so one of these would be inappropriate for families with children. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus bulbs are great choices for people who enjoy the process of watching them grow and develop. Gardenias are so temperamental that they should only be chosen for only the greenest of thumbs. Clivias are a great choice for gardeners who keep plants for years and years.
Another key element to success is to protect the plant from cold weather after being purchased and delivered. Ideally, the store will wrap the plant in floral wrapping paper to protect it from cold temperatures and wind. If that's not possible, cover the plant with a plastic store bag. If the temperature is below freezing, preheat the car. Don't leave the plant in an unheated car. To keep the plant from tipping over in the car, have a box and newspaper to crumple around the pot and keep it secure.
The poinsettia is undoubtedly the most popular holiday gift plant, but garden centers, groceries, and other stores offer a number of other choices that are worthy of consideration. Here are a few to consider.
This is one of my all-time favorite plants. Most often it is bought as a dormant bulb, which makes it a great gift for do-it-yourselfers. Larger bulbs will produce more and bigger flowers. Besides a number of different varieties of the traditional red form, the red-and-white 'Apple Blossom' is the most popular amaryllis. There are lots of other named varieties, including shades of pink and orange, white and greenish white, many different bicolored forms, double forms, miniatures, and exotic-looking spidery forms. For more information about amaryllis, paper white narcissus, and other bulbs, go to: http://www.bulb.com.
Paper White Narcissus
This is the no-brainer flower. Nestle the bulbs among some pebbles and add water. In a few weeks, you'll have wonderfully fragrant flowers. Alas, it's best to throw the bulbs away once flowering is done, which bothers some people. Another problem is the tendency of the plants to flop. It's been found that alcohol helps to alleviate this. For more information, go to: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/miller/bulb/Pickling_your_Paperwhites.pdf.
Possessing one of the plant world's great fragrances, freesias are difficult to grow, so they are best purchased as blooming plants. Sadly, it's also best to relegate them to the compost once blooming is finished. Some things must be appreciated regardless of their fleeting nature, or perhaps because of it.
Once a group of plants for specialists, orchids have become widely available. Of all those offered, phalaenopsis are the most adaptable to our homes, and easy to keep alive and rebloom. In addition to the traditional white butterfly flower form, there are many hybrids with a variety of colors and markings. There are also miniature forms. Learn more about these plants on the American Orchid Society Web site at: http://orchidweb.org/aos/.
A relative of the amaryllis that is also native to South Africa, clivias are large, long-lived plants with dark green, strap-like leaves. Clusters of bell-shaped flowers are borne on long stalks above the foliage. The most common form has orange flowers, but there are hybrids in shades of peach, near-white, red, and yellow. Although responding well to regular watering and feeding plus summering outdoors, clivias withstand a fair amount of neglect. For more information, go to the Web site of the American Clivia Society at: http://www.americancliviasociety.org/articles.html.
The widely varying begonia family includes many more members than the ubiquitous wax begonias that are so widely used as garden bedding plants. Although these can be grown indoors as houseplants, there are many other members to consider, whether for their flowers or colorful leaves. Your grandmother might have grown angel wing or rex begonias, but don't consider them old fashioned. They're just as beautiful and satisfying to grow as ever. For more information, go to the Web site of the American Begonia Society at: http://www.begonias.org/greenhouse/.
None of this is to say that you shouldn't also consider African violets and other gesneriads, jasmine, citrus, azaleas, cyclamen, and countless others as a thoughtful opportunity to share the glory of flowers with others.
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