It’s rare you come across hot-water plants in garden centres, but if you ever get the chance to grow these colourful houseplants, grab it.
Lovely as the garden centre’s usual offerings are, you’ll be hard pressed to find a houseplant with such tropically colourful flowers as achimenes (hot-water plants’ botanical name). They’re easy-peasy to grow and now’s the perfect time to start off their rhizomes (swollen roots similar to bulbs), which you can buy from specialist houseplant nurseries such as Dibleys (call 01978 790677, or visit www.dibleys.com).
When they arrive, you might be surprised at their appearance. They’re small, and if you’ve ever discovered vine weevil grubs in your patio pots, you’ll see they bear an alarming maggot-like resemblance to them! Their common name came about when Victorian gardeners gave the rhizomes hot water to trigger them into growth, but you don’t need to do that. All you need to do is fill a pot with compost (multi-purpose is fine) to about 2cm below the rim, space the rhizomes across it, cover with a centimetre or so of compost and water. Use water that’s at room temperature though, rather than chilly water straight from the tap.
Keep the pot in a warm place – a sunny windowsill is fine – and wait until shoots start to sprout. Then keep the plants moist, but never waterlogged. The stems grow quite tall, so usually need support or they splay outwards. You can buy circular ring supports that clip to the edge of plastic pots. But you can rustle up exactly the same thing with green split canes pushed around the edges of the pot and circled with string.
They flower at the height of summer, with vibrant blooms in coral, red, violet purple and white. There are magenta varieties, double-flowered ones, banana yellow ones with spotted throats, varieties with maroon-tinted stems and leaves that make a beautiful contrast – the choice is yours. You can keep them from year to year by harvesting the rhizomes in autumn when the stems have died back. Just keep them in an envelope with a little Vermiculite (to keep them safe), somewhere dry and frost-free, then re-plant next spring.
MUST-BUY PLANT… Peony
All herbaceous peonies have luxurious flowers, most often in shades of pink and red. Beautiful in sun or light, dappled shade and rich, fertile soil.
Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’
This variety has flowers with a difference, the cupped deep pink outer petals delicately enclosing a central boss of narrow creamy-yellow inner petals.
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