Written by Tovah Martin
The deliveryman was just being gallant, I’m sure. When he offered to bring the box of books in out of the snow, he probably assumed he’d toss it into your typical vestibule and be done with it. Sign here. In fact, he was hoping to summarily dump it into one of those cavernous entryways with enough room to hold a town meeting (in a small town, no pressing new business). But a few steps in, he regretted his valiance. Chivalry suddenly entailed wedging between the oddball sedum showering its succulent leaves down to the ground. It meant beating back the cissus groping tendrils at his clipboard. It could only accomplished after sidestepping the sacrificial fescue shedding mangled grass tufts on the floor after the kitten slowly tortured it into submission. He was feeling deeply out of his element. Then he caught glimpse of the amaryllis. And he breathed an audible sigh of relief. This lady is just this side of normal, he figured.
I come from a background of plant snobs. The greenhouse where I got my training in horticulture didn’t truck with anything that wasn’t nearly impossible to find. We didn’t do “normal.” We grew stuff like Lapageria rosea, a plant that could only be had from seed fermented for a few months. They would have nothing to do with pansies. Frowned on fritillarias and such. So there I was. A sucker for the first amaryllis to cross my path.
Okay, here’s the quiz = Can you remember your first snowdrop? Thought not. Can you recall the first time you encountered a puschkinia? Doubt it. Come to think of it, can you give a detailed blow by blow of your initial interaction with any plant? But how about the first amaryllis you encountered? Now, that’s a different story.
My first kiss was unremarkable, apparently, because it’s lost in the cobwebs of my checkered history. Ditto for my first date (sorry, wherever you are). But with sharp clarity, with all the attendant sound effects (fluttering of heart, gasping of breath, weakness in knees, pulse pounding) I can pull up the scene when an amaryllis first came into my life. Now, just to set the record straight, I’m talking about hippeastrum here. The real amaryllis, Amaryllis belladonna, was certainly of sufficient connoisseur-quality for the gang back at the greenhouse. I knew Amaryllis belladonna (snore). But somehow, I managed to go through most of my formative years and arrive nearly at adulthood without encountering a hippeastrum.
That changed the day I was sent to pick up milk at the farm down the street. Close your eyes and you can pull up the scene – booby trapped porch, a labyrinth of farmer’s almanacs and farm journals stacked precariously in the path to the kitchen, farmer sunk deep into an overstuffed chair (awake? asleep? alive?), 14 cats wrapping their tails around your ankles, squinting (real Yankees don’t venture higher than 40 watts) at hollowed-out dyed egg ornaments daggling from the Christmas tree (this was a couple who labored endlessly to harness their surplus eggs). And the farmer’s wife (don’t worry, I know her name, but I’m not telling) leading the way (trust me, you needed a guide) into the dining room, sparkling white damask table cloth laid out. And there –in the middle of the table, exhibited with all due reverence and awe – was a fire whistle of a flower. It could have been a satellite dish of a flower, but that would be an anachronism. Actually, it was several flowers balanced atop a plump stem all facing different directions with their mouths gaping open as if aghast. It was big bang. It was torridly colored deep red. Its sexual apparatus was full frontal. It was a tart in the floral kingdom. It was almost obscene. And more than anything in the world, I wanted one. I wanted more than one. I wanted them all.
So that’s my story. That explains, in a nutshell, where I am right now. A fugitive from Snobsville. So there. Go ahead – Snicker. There is no challenge involved with an amaryllis. No PhD (potting house degree) necessary. Plunk them into the soil and you’re going to get blossoms. Basically, you’re home free the moment the package saying “Keep from Freezing/Open Immediately” arrives on the doorstep. Common sense tells you that the soil should be sufficiently heavy to balance out the bulk of those plus-sized flowers. No staking (I hate staking – looks like the plant is being lashed for impending torture). Your furnace repairman could grow one, for gosh sake. He might not be able to keep an amaryllis going year after year (put it outside in summer, treat it royally, bring it in late summer and put it into dormancy, wake it up after you clear Thanksgiving). But he could have one very good winter.
Sure, you could dabble in the newer varieties – get ahead of the Joneses that way. But in the end, you’ll just have a better color, or a more intriguing shape, or smarter streaking on the same insufferably easy plant.
Okay, now here’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your favorites. Tell us which bloomed best for you. Complain about ‘Evergreen’ (small, green, what was I thinking)? Boast about ‘Zombie’ (kerthud, kerthud, kerthud). Tell all.
Meanwhile, back to my house. A few months ago, I got a kitten. That would be Einstein. At first, everything went into the Mad Purrfessor’s mouth (including some rare orchids, but that’s another story). Amaryllis is in the Liliaceae, after all (does anyone know if hippeastrums are actually poisonous to cats?). I thought that amaryllis and I would have to part company. I planned the tearful farewell, I bought Kleenex. But I couldn’t find homes for all the refugees (we’re talking a few dozen pots here). Meanwhile (I mean while I was walking around the neighborhood knocking on doors toting fat dormant bulbs, asking for visitation rights), the kitten grew out of ingestion and moved smoothly into shredding instead. Einstein and the amaryllis live happily ever after. End of story. Now go to bed.
|Einstein with ‘Baby Doll’|