Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Stalking Hippeastrum

When I was a child we seemed to have lots of elderly female relatives - my grandmother’s sisters or cousins mostly born before 1900.  
These old ladies had things in common. They made pikelets and jam, had open fireplaces surrounded by dark green or grey tiles and ornate fire guards.  Their tablecloths were lace and they used teapots. They lived in old brick houses and liked to talk about their gardens and borders using big words like agapanthus and hydrangea.

Agapanthus and hydrangeas

 For most of my life I avoided these old lady symbols, though at an age under 12 my sister and I won a prize for fancy dress, as Cinderella’s ugly sisters wearing agapanthus on top of our heads. But now I have become the elderly female relative in my family, owning three tea pots and growing agapanthus in my garden - next to daylilies and hippeastrums.


I had never heard of, or noticed, a hippeastrum until we moved to Queensland. For two years we lived in an old house with the remains of an old world garden. I had a push mower for the grass and  didn’t cut the grass as often as I should have but was usually prompted to do the job by finding a snake in the laundry or under the washing line.  One day I noticed a tall green leaf – like a tongue – growing from the short grass in a shady corner. A few weeks later the one green tongue had turned into a four long leaves and a thick straight stem (or scape) held two pink trumpet shaped flowers. I called it the pretty lady. I was very busy during those years and something like a flower in the lawn faded from my mind as it faded from sight. 

But the following summer it was back ... and then we moved to another house.

Around that time, a part time job took me to a local hippeastrum farm once a month.  I couldn’t pronounce hippeastrum and never remembered it between visits. For the first seven months I didn’t even see the flowers because it was their dormant season. But, one day, at the end of spring, I stepped from the car to find I was surrounded by strange shaped flowers in every possible tone of pink, red or orange. They were stunning. 

Over the next 25 years I often drove past the farm, and at times I went in to visit. It never occurred to me to actually buy any plants. Friends were always offering to give me plants and cuttings but pawpaw trees and pots of parsley was all I could manage. 

My children, two jobs, extra activities like sewing, craft and writing took up my time until I retired.  Then I picked up a lifelong goal to learn about and grow herbs - especially those with healing properties.  There is no end to the list of plants that are good for us, to nourish and to heal. I was fascinated by the cycle of growth, fruit, seed, growth, but I never considered myself a gardener because I was not interested in flowers - until I realised how important they were to attract bees to the herbs.  I was successful at growing rocket and the bees love the little white flowers that precede the seed pods but that was not really enough.  
Rocket flowers - edible

When we had to remove a large gum tree at front of our house, it left a noticeable gap in the landscape we were used to.  My husband bought several foxtail palms to fill the area and I was to choose something to grow under the palms, at least as ground cover. Weeding is not fun.

My first attempts failed. A native flower garden would have been wonderful - desert pea, kangaroo paw, flannel flowers, boronia and more. But none of these liked my patch of dirt with the type of drainage and sunshine I had on offer. 
Day lily, bright as the sun

Then, a friend decided to become a grey nomad and moved from a house with a garden to a mobile home. One day she brought me a bucket of bare rooted bulbs, hippeastrums, and clumps of straggly things called agapanthus and daylilies.  She thought I’d like them for my garden.  I had no idea what to do with them, but felt I owed them a home.  I had heard of daylilies but did not know what they looked like. I had forgotten what agapanthus were.

The hippiastrum bulbs went into pots and I filled black bags for the agapanthus and daylilies, which is where they stayed, for two years before we had designed and built up that garden area and I was able to make a permanent place for them.  

I started to notice hippiastrums wherever I went in early summer. It seemed everyone had a few or more.  I had imagined a carpet of flowers around the foxtails - but not these divas. They all do their own thing, blooming unexpectedly, one at a time. 
Over three years later we have a population of Hippis that get three and four flowers on a stem – they thrive on neglect. They have reproduced beyond the pots now. My day lilies are an amazing bright yellow but only last two days at the most.  The aggies take their time forming flower balls that stay around for a week or two but they are busy, busy, busy producing new plants all year long.

I thought I might start a hippeastrum collection. I went back to the Hippeastrum Farm to actually buy some.  It just happened to be the last day of the year for their open season (when the flowers are in bloom) and it was the last day of the farm as it had been sold and they were moving out the next day.  I became the very last customer and drove away, sadly, with four lovely blooming hippeastrums in the car.

I could see this could become an expensive interest, so rather than collecting I might go for the lucky dips. Online I purchased a budget pack of hippi bulbs that will surprise me next summer, I hope,

When we find something special we like to share it and I did, buying a flowering hippi as a birthday gift for a friend. I turns out she loves them too. I’m now daydreaming about having my own hippeastrum farm ……….  la la la.


I will however, continue to resist the hydrangea bush so I have not quite turned into Aunty Mabel or Aunty Flo yet but when I do it will be my version of an old lady gardener.

Hippiastrums in flower among agapanthus leaves

Origin: subtropical regions, from Brazil to Peru, Argentina, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Propagation: by seed or offset bulbils.
Climate: subtropical or can be grown in pots inside.

I love these delicate ladies - thank you Jennifer L


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