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A Bulb Like No Other


A few days ago it was cool enough to go outside and see the red needles calling me. It was my fully open haemanthus, a rarely grown South African bulb whose salmon red stamens form a round ball up to 10 inches across.

From my earliest greenhouse experiments, I never could get it right. First of all, it was called Haemanthus ‘Katherinae’. (I don’t know who she is.) By the time I researched that elusive woman, her name had been changed to Scadoxus multiflorus subsp. katherinae. I hope she likes her new inlaws. She rotted on me. Some thanks I got for slavishly taking care of her.

I eventually bought a new bulb, small and inexpensive, probably an offset. This Katherinae is like Paris Hilton, expensive and showy, but is the depth there? She went into a 6-inch pot with container potting soil, and out came a small flower that spent the summer on the wall around my patio. That winter Katherinae stayed in the pot, sheltered in a big box of other bulbs for company. She survived and flowered. Helped by loving care, she put out an offset.

Photos By Nancy Kekst

Now I save the bulb in the same pot and wait for really hot summer days until a shiny, dark bud shows. The round flower zooms out, and lastly the foliage appears.

She is really hot stuff!

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questions

I recently moved to Chicago from Houston and I miss fresh picked figs. Is there any way to grow figs in Chicago short of installing a greenhouse? Will sunny windows do? I’m desperate.

What plants do you predict will be best sellers this year? Why?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

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