Gardening: For the pot
Azaleas and cyclamen are ideal for giving and growing at Christmas, writes David Overend.
Christmas seems to come around faster every year; so fast that it’s hardly worth the effort of taking down the tree and decorations.
Let’s leave them up permanently – they’ll go well with the plants which are bought in their millions as presents.
We don’t pack them away after 12 days. In fact, the opposite is the case – we try our damnedest to keep them growing forever.
While the poinsettia normally gets centre stage, here are one or two more plants which have become mainstays of Christmas; ideal for giving and growing and keeping alive the memory of the season of goodwill.
Azaleas naturally bloom in spring, but they are forced into flower early for the Christmas trade. To enjoy them at their best, give them a coolish spot out of hot sun and keep them well watered. If the compost dries out, the plant will probably keel over and die.
In mid-April, repot using an ericaceous compost and feed with a high-potassium, liquid feed at weekly intervals.
In summer, a plant can be put outdoors in a cool, shady site but it should be brought back indoors before the first frost of autumn.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) come in a variety of styles –some have silver marbled leaves, or frilled petals, or fragrant blooms and there’s a range of flower colours.
Cyclamen will bloom for several months and can be encouraged to flower again in future years.
Buy a plant with plenty of buds showing underneath the foliage. Avoid any plants with drooping or yellow leaves, as they have often been overwatered.
Choose a bright spot, away from direct sunlight and heat sources, and dead-head when necessary. When all the blooms are gone, give the plant a bit of a rest. Then repot it and watch it start to produce fresh leaves.
Indoor cyclamen are usually larger and more showy than their outdoor cousins, the hardy cyclamen.
Finally, not forgetting poinsettia, gardenia and orchids, such as Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis are all ideal for warm rooms. Orchids such as Cymbidium will also tolerate cooler positions out of full sun in a north or east-facing room.
And there are also a number of bulbs which give excellent colour indoors, so there’s really no excuse to have a dismal Christmas this year.