With Christmas just around the corner I’m often asked what houseplants I recommend as gifts. Here are my top five:
Hippeastrum / Amaryllis, this is a remarkable bulb, which produces 60cm / 2ft tall, fleshy drainpipe stems and flamboyant trumpet flowers up to 20cm / 8inch across. You can buy them as DIY plant-it-yourself kits, or as ready-planted gifts.
Citrus bushes make interesting presents. Sold at this time of year with both flowers and developing fruit, they are deliciously scented. Lemon varieties are lovely but also consider calamondin oranges. The plant should be kept in a light, frost-free spot over the winter with a minimum night temperature of 5°C, then in the summer the pot can be moved outside.
Schlumbergera x buckleyi, the Christmas cactus, is a perennial favourite. It has protruding stamens at the end of succulent, flattened leaves, and pretty flowers. It likes high humidity while flowering so mist it regularly with a fine spray of clean water, and feed it monthly with a high-potash feed. When it’s finished flowering put the plant in a light spot and keep the compost just moist.
Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Ostara’ is a stunning hyacinth with deep-blue flowers, powerfully scented and particularly nice when planted as a trio in a bowl or basket. Christmas hyacinths are ‘forced’ to flower earlier than they would naturally. They need a cool spot, preferably no more than 13°C, so that they do not flop. The bulbs can be planted in the garden afterwards so will continue to provide pleasure in future years.
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is not a houseplant but it makes a fabulous gift. It flowers from November, while the leaves are still on, through the winter. The pink flowers are scented and a few sprigs in a small vase at this time of year are just joyous. Even better, it is totally hardy so is great for the non-greenfingered, and can be planted out of a pot at any time, if the ground isn’t frozen.
Don’t wrap plants, just tie a big bow around the pot. It’s a thoughtful touch to provide printed or hand-written instructions for aftercare. Make sure any living plant is well watered before you hand it over. They will probably be a bit neglected over the festive period, but a good watering should make sure that they last past New Year.
Happy festive gardening!
By Rachael Leverton