Gardeners' Chronicle p. 56-57 (Jan 14, 1888)

James Douglas

Perhaps I ought to notice the remarks on this plant at p. 818 of last year's volume by Mr. Culverwell. I recommended the use of 5-inch pots for weakly-constitntioned varieties. We have plenty of bulbs 5 inches in diameter. These we plant in 8-inch pots. What I was anxious to guard against was over-potting. Inexperienced cultivators are more apt to err on the side of over-potting than in the opposite direction.

Mr. Culvenvell must not suppose that bulbs producing two spikes with four flowers on each are extra fine. Our largest bulbs of such noble varieties as Empress of India produce three spikes with five and six flowers on each. The largest number of flowers we have had open from one bulb at a time was seventeen, but this is unusual. Every year we can show some with fifteen flowers. I fancy only the more hardy varieties would thrive with the treatment recommended by Mr. Culverwell. The best varieties of the Amaryllis have been produced by hybridising A. Leopoldii and A. pardina. The progeny of these are too tender to be placed out-of-doors, and to be moved into frames when frost comes. On the other hand, there are some species, of which A. vittata may be taken as the type, which have produced much more hardy varieties. This species is well figured in the Botanical Magazine, and the plant there figured is probably the type form. It is there stated that "it rarely puts forth offsets from the root, but readily produces seeds, by which it is propagated without difficulty." From two to five flowers were stated to be produced on one scape. The figure was taken in 1791. Dean Herbert in 1837 describes A. vittata as producing from four to nine flowers. The largest number would probably be the produce of two scapes. From 1791 until the death of Dean Herbert, about fifty years later, the Amaryllis was well known in this country. Amongst others of the early varieties A. Reginae held a leading place. This species was stated to have been grown in a Mr. Fairchild's garden at Hoxton in 1728. Miller, writing in the Gardeners' Dictionary, states that "this species, not being so hardy as some others, it must be placed in a warm stove, and if the pots are plunged into a hotbed of tanner's bark, the roots will thrive better, and the flowers will be strong." This species went under the name of the Mexican Lily. There is an excellent plate of it by Sydenham Edwards in Bot. Mag., t. 453. Dean Herbert's work is well known, and those who would like to become acquainted with it will find a very complete record in the "Amaryllidaceae," p. 142.

It is there stated that the first cross was made between the two species I have named by a Mr. Johnson, in Lancashire, in 1810, and by Herbert himself at Mitcham, in 1811, and again at Highclere later. Herbert named it Regio-vittatum; and this hybrid is even now in existence—at least, I grew it until quite recently under the name of Johnsoni. Mr. Johnson thought this was a cross between A. vittata and Sprekelia formosissima. A cross between these comparatively hardy species would produce a progeny that might be hardy in our climate; but Herbert doubted whether a cross had ever been made with this Jacobean Lily and the Hippeastrums. He says no instance had ever come to his knowledge ot it bearing seeds in this country. As far as my own knowledge extends, I have never known it to cross with Hippeastrum. Herbert tried it with Hippeastrum and Zephyranthus, but failed. The Jacobean Lily produces pollen abundantly, and it is just possible that others may have been successful with it; in fact, it is distinctly stated that H. spathaceum (Bot. Mag., t. 2315) is a Sprekelia cross and the coloured plate would certainly lead one to believe that it was a cross from the Jacobean Lily.

H. spathaceum hyb. was flowered by Mr. Joseph Knight, of the Exotic Nursery, Chelsea, in 1822, who stated that they received the bulb from Mr. E. Bearpark, a gardener in Cheshire, who gave particular attention to the culture of this class of plants. Mr. Bearpark's letter to Mr. Knight is worth quoting in part. He says, "that in 1814 he impregnated Amaryllis vittata with the pollen of A. Reginae; the seed produced was sown in 1815, and part of the progeny flowered in 1818. The early flowers were most of them stripped of their pollen, and impregnated with that of A. formosissima, and amongst the produce was one different from the rest, bearing its flowers erect, and blooming one at a time in succession." This is evidently the plant figured, although it has two flowers open on the scape. It does seem to me that many of the hybrids raised in those days, and later on, were from the hardy Cape species; but as garden plants tbey cannot for a moment be compared with the beautiful forms of the present day; in fact, thirteen of Dean Herbert's crosses were either from H. vittatum or H. Johnsoni. Doubtless many of the beautiful varieties raised at that time have perished; but many of them may yet remain; and by a process of what may be termed natural selection the more tender varieties would disappear, while the hardier would remain to be the parents of those yet to be found in old gardens.

We read of the Amaryllis growing freely out-of-doors in some districts; and it is certainly very desirable that such hardy forms should be improved by seeding from other hardy varieties. The Jacobean and Belladonna Lilies, for instance, if they really can be crossed with the hardy types of the true Hippeastrum, would produce valuable plants for sheltered positions in our hardy flower gardens. Mr. Kelway has, I believe, been conducting experiments with the hardy forms of Hippeastrum, and can doubtless give valuable information. Mr. Frank Miles, writing to a contemporary quite recently, states that A. Ackermanni pulcherrima is grown quite in the open at Calke Abbey, in Derbyshire, where there is a border 200 feet long of it, and in winter it is only covered with Bracken. This variety is so slow of increase, that I cannot conceive of any one having 200 plants of it, let alone a border out-of-doors 200 feet long. I cannot get any increase from a healthy bulb. I fancy there must be some mistake, and that the border is made up of the Jacobean Lily, which is of the same colour. Mr. Miles' statement can easily be verified if it is correct.

Let it be proven that A. Ackermanni pulcherrima will grow in borders out-of-doors, many other supposed tender varieties might also grow with it. Mr. Miles also doubts if the Jacobean Lily has ever been crossed with Hippeastrum. Herbert also doubted it; and I must say that, after a determined effort to cross it with Hippeastrum, I gave it up. There is yet a large field for the hybridiser in this interesting genus. Suppose Ackermanni pulcherrima to be quite hardy, with the protection of Bracken, we have a valuable parent, as it can be crossed with other species, though not very freely. The beautiful varieties Chelsoni, Brilliant, &c, were obtained in Messrs. Veitch's nursery at Chelsea by crossing it with A. pardina. The Amaryllis is now so universally cultivated in the best gardens, that it is not too much to suppose, some one may have raised very interesting hybrids; and I am sure any information as to hardiness, or new crosses would be most welcome.