08 November 2007

Amaryllis and attempting art

There are a lot of houseplants that I simply won't try to grow because they like it too hot/cold/bright/humid/insert excuse here. That's not to say I don't have successes with indoor plants. I have this marvelous jade tree (Crassula argentea) that I've nursed from a tiny cutting to a fairly hefty and shapely plant, along with a host of other cacti and succulents. I have flowering kalanchoes and cyclamens in my office, which is slightly cool, and a phalenopsis orchid that continues to thrive and bloom despite my forgetting to water it or otherwise tend it for weeks on end...and a wide assortment of other plants, some foliage, some flowering.

But as we edge closer to THAT time of year, one of the plants that gives me great joy is the amaryllis. There's something exotic, aloof, and yet soothing about them, and I like their bombastic ways of being. It appeals to my sense of je ne sais quoi the way a bulb will sit quietly for days, even weeks, in a pot, just being...and then suddenly, that green shoot appears, and you can almost watch the flower stalk grow...and then there are those glorious, trumpet shaped flowers. What's not to love?

Amaryllis are botanically called Hippeastrum, and aren't really amaryllis at all: although they both are in the family Amaryllidaceae, Hippeastrum are from South America and Mexico, while the Amaryllis, of which there is ONE species, is from South Africa. We still all mistakenly call those huge bulbs amaryllis, myself included, obviously. Here's a bit of trivia with which to impress your friends at your next garden meeting--Hippeastrum mean's horseman's star in Greek, but I have yet to discover just why someone gave this plant that name. The flowers are starshaped, true...but where does the horse come in? http://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

I put my amaryllis outdoors every summer and normally bring them back indoors in September, consigning them to the cool and dark basement to rest for a couple of months before bringing them back upstairs; they normally flower around Christmas or in January. But I was late this year in moving them, so they're still in their rest period, forcing me to have to purchase a couple of new bulbs yesterday while I was visiting Halifax Seed.

Growing hippeastra or if you wish to call them, Amaryllis is pretty easy. I normally set the bulb up to its base in a bowl of water for a few hours to hydrate the roots and 'wake up' the bulb; then I plant in good potting soil, in a pot that is wide enough to support the plant when it gets top-heavy with blooms, but not so wide that the bulb is overwhelmed by the soil. Don't cover the bulb completely--up to its shoulders, the widest part of the bulb before it starts narrowing to the neck, is good. You can also put them in a dish on wet pebbles, but I prefer to do this with hyacinths, narcissus or crocus rather than amaryllis, because they're not so large and apt to flop over. Sometimes it takes the bulb only a few days to begin growing--other times I've had them sit and sulk for a couple of months before leaping into life. After the flowers have faded, I cut the stem off and just enjoy the leaves until summer, when the plants go outdoors again. I HAVE had flowers go to seed, but I confess I've yet to try growing one from seed. Maybe when I win that lottery and get my conservatory....

And now for something completely different.

I have always maintained that I cannot draw or paint, despite the fact that I used to do adequate illustrations for papers in my botany and other plant-related classes at college; and despite the fact that countless people have assured me that anyone CAN learn to draw or paint.

Well, it's time to try. I'm only interested in creating portraits of plants, because I love botanical illustrations. Last year I bought a book by The Eden Project called Botanical Illustration Course, and then I spent all kinds of time convincing myself I couldn't possibly do this.

Then the very talented artist Val Webb posted a tutorial on botanical drawing and watercolour on her website the other day...and that was it for me. What she wrote and showed made such SENSE, even to me...so I toddled off to a store, got paper and brushes and paints--not the most expensive, but decent quality, or so I'm told, to start with--and am just getting ready to maybe embark on this new adventure.

It's the flowers, you see. And the leaves, and seeds, and buds and roots...everything about plants gives such joy, and all that colour...so I'll try playing with paints and see what happens. At the very least, it will pull me away from my computer or from reading and into doing something. And it just might brighten up the grey months ahead.

Don't expect to see me in a gallery any century soon, though--at least, not displaying stuff. Buying other people's work, sure thing!


  1. Oh WOW Jodi. You have a gift all you need to do is let it flourish, or is that flowerish?? tee heee.

  2. Good luck with the painting! I have the same book out from the library - there's another gorgeoous botanical illustration book by Margaret Stevens that you'd probably enjoy too.

    Did you know that your blog is a 'Blog of Note' today? How cool is that!!

  3. Oh my goodness, Jodi, I can't believe it. I don't know if you remember that I mentioned I have a couple canvasses here, just waiting for me to paint on them. I bought them last winter, meaning to embark on the same journey you are now taking, but of course, I never quite got around to it and the canvasses are perched on their sides in the dining room corner.

    You're inadvertently challenging me here, aren't you? LOL. You go ahead - go first - let me know how it goes. Maybe I'll get the courage to actually put paint on those canvasses.

    And the amaryllis? That's one thing to look forward to about winter, isn't it? :-)

    Are you sure we weren't twins in another life?? ;-)

  4. Our amaryllis/hippeastrum can be grown as an outdoor plant, but you're reminding me how much fun they are on a tabletop, Jodi.

    When you and Kate and Kylee start posting botanical art it should be quite a show!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. The history of how things get names are sometimes as fascinating as the things themselves.

  6. I most certainly enjoyed my visit and can see why your site is a featured 'Blog of Note'! Have fun sketching ... My walls are filled with lovely old botanicals. Perhaps someday, someone will be saying that about yours!

  7. We have a Red Lion that blooms every year for us. They're really gorgeous plants that require a minimum of fuss. Love the photos!

    Good luck with your art endeavor. I hope it goes well for you. :)

  8. I'm glad you got the courage and inspiration to start making art. I'm in a similar boat to you. I'm good at drawing but am so intimidated by the complexity of plants. You need to show us you drawings and paintings once you get started.

  9. every year I buy a new Red Lion -- love that deep rich red. But I have the 'plants' scattered here and there in my home. I've never ever been able to get them to bloom every again. I don't have a basement but have locked them away in a dark closet. Still no luck. I hate to toss them in the compost but if someone near me wanted them, I'd happily pass them along and keep buying new ones each year.

    Please keep us posted on your venture into painting -- sounds like an excellent exercise for diversifying the creative juices.

    Diane at Sand to Glass

  10. Just two days ago I bought a new amaryllis which is going to bloom pretty soon. I never succeded to have them for more than one season....so every year, before Christmas I buy a new plant. It is indeed a fascinating bulb!!
    I'm looking forward to seeing your plant drawings..:-)!! I'm sure they will be as good as your eloquent texts and wonderful pictures in your blog!
    Have a lovely weekend!

  11. Jodi, when I first looked at the picture on your blog with the book on your pad of paper I thought you had painted the flower. Geez...I reallly must have been in a hurry when I looked at that. I now see that it is the front of the book you are studying. Geez...

    I still think you will be able to do this. Good Luck...

  12. You had me incredibly curious after teasing us with that bit of trivia about the Hippeastrum, meaning "horseman's star".

    So, I went digging: found nothing in my garden books but did find one tiny possibility on the Internet at the Univ of Illinois extension ...
    "It wasn't until 1837 that British botanist William Herbert gave the bulbs the genus name Hippeastrum, meaning "horseman's star". No one really knows why he gave the bulbs this name, but many think it must have something to do with the flower buds resembling horse's ears, and the flowers bearing a strong resemblance to a six-pointed star."

    That makes sense too because those buds really do look like horse's ears. Thanks for such an interesting post full of intriguing information and tidbits!

    Diane at Sand to Glass

  13. You are inspiring me to go in search of close up flower opportunities for photographing. God is really quite the artist!


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