At a talk I gave last month about bulb planting, one cool east London resident lurked mournfully on the sidelines. When I asked why, she replied, "I don't have a garden, or even space for a windowbox. So this is all ruled out for me." Not so, fair lady of Hoxton. Indoor bulbs, planted in the next few weeks, will cheer up your winter, and make the perfect present for Christmas. All you need is some daylight, which I'm assuming they do let you have in the London Borough of Hackney.
Amaryllis bulbs are among the best for beginners, and you can buy them now in most major supermarket chains, complete with a pot and soil (amazing dessicated compost discs which pop up like space-food when you add water). Their huge arching green shoots are exhilarating entertainment during the cold weeks of November, followed by the gaudy flowers.
The priciest bulbs will have been fattened up by superior Dutch technology to produce three or four flowers, and so it's worth paying a couple of quid more. Last winter, I saw a spectacular display of amaryllis in a gallery in the Netherlands, where they had been lined up in a row of perhaps a dozen against a pure white wall. This would make an expensive but extraordinary statement for Christmas week, lasting far longer than cut flowers.
Another bulb for Christmas is the Paperwhite narcissus, which can be bought from garden centres or by mail order. Apart from their fragrant perfume, the delight of these bulbs lies in their pretty, clean, white blooms, which are the best reminder that spring is on its way. Paperwhites look wonderful planted in glass dishes. (A note of caution: make sure you don't use the one you later realise you need for Boxing Day trifle). Poke the bulbs a third of the way into a simple layer of stones or gravel without covering them. Then, keep the water topped up so that it touches the base plate of the bulbs without soaking the flesh. They will flower in about six weeks, so plant for Christmas Day in earlyish November.
Lastly, force some hyacinths now for the weeks after New Year, when post-festivity gloom descends. Good garden centres will stock bulbs complete with forcing glasses, which let the bulb sit elegantly above a reservoir of water, its roots trailing. Your bulbs need 12 weeks of cool temperatures before going into the vases (for example, in a squirrel-proof Tupperware box, inside a light-proof bag, out in the garden). Then, put them into the vases and away they go – but keep them cool for a few weeks longer to encourage the roots to grow long, before they flower. Planting all three of these bulbs would cost less than £25, and provide colour and fragrance for weeks.
Indoor activities: Three bulbs for the home
De Jager's amaryllises are super-sized. One mammoth scarlet 'Liberty' bulb will produce two stems of up to five blooms. (£11.75, www.dejager.co.uk). Turn their pots through 90 degrees once a day, to keep the spike growing vertically rather than towards the light
Cox & Cox has a set of three hyacinth vases for £16 ( www.coxandcox.co.uk). Or look for vintage hyacinth glasses on eBay – an eye-catching vintage pink-frosted 1950s confection sold recently for £4.99
Bloms Bulbs has stock of Paperwhite narcissi 'Ziva' (£5 for six bulbs, www.blomsbulbs.com). I also recommend their 'John Bos', in a rousing pink not for the faint-hearted (£2.80 for three bulbs)
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