There is one plant that I really look forward to seeing come into flower about this time every year, and that's the Clivia Miniata. I've had a plant for over five years now. I think I bought the parent plant from my local Homebase store, probably, knowing me, because it was reduced in price at the end of its flowering season; somehow I don't seem able to resist the challenge of 'can I keep it alive?' With this plant I've had more success than I could have expected, and perhaps that's one major reason why I ma so fond of it.
~~ Description of My Plants ~~
The Clivia is a member of the amaryllis family; if you know the amaryllis you'll quickly spot the features they have in common. One difference is that the Clivia doesn't have a true bulb or rhizome; however, if you look closely at the base of the most mature leaves, they are swollen, indicating an incomplete bulb-like structure from which thick roots run off, and the leaves arise from the crown.
When it's not in flower - which is most of the year, to be honest - it presents as a pretty average evergreen foliage plant about 30 cm in height. It has darkish strap-like leaves that fall either side of the centre. It seems that one leaf emerges at a time, and, as it grows, falls on the side directly opposite to its predecessor. What is striking about it as a foliage plant is its striking symmetry, best seen in silhouette, making it look a bit like a vase. I like to look into the centre to see if a new leaf is emerging. Even better, when it's due to flower, I like to part the leaves gently and look to see if I can spot the flower bud - or buds - emerging. It gives me quite a buzz! This is usually in late winter or early spring. I think mine are a bit late this year, as, although the flower stems are growing to full height and colour is just beginning to show on the buds, they are not yet fully out. I think they are usually in flower, in my conservatory, in early February. The stem is up to about 30 cm in height, and topped by a large flower head or umbel with many trumpet shaped flowers, usually between 12 -20 in number. My plants - the most common variety of Clivia - produce flowers that are bright orange in colour, with a yellowish centre. Rarer forms apparently have flowers in shades of read, salmon, or yellow, but I haven't come across them. It would be interesting to see how they compare for ease of growth. The flowers are quite long lasting but not particularly scented. When they are finished I remove the whole stem, as seed heads start to form and I feel it's better for the plant if it can put its energy into new growth rather than trying to reproduce itself through seed. After a while the plants often produce offsets, which are essentially potential baby plants growing attached to the parent. More of those later.
~~ Cultivation Notes ~~
I've been surprised to see the Clivia described as a difficult plant to look after in some books, because I enjoy looking after it and find it undemanding. Mine are grown in everyday multipurpose compost. I find the best way to grow any plant is to discover how it grows in the wild, and replicate those conditions as closely as possible. Now the Clivia is a native of Southern Africa where it grows on moist, shady forest floors. It was taken to England in 1854 by one John Lindley, who named it Clivia in honour of the then Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Charlotte Clive. It was its ability to survive in shady conditions that it made it attractive to the Victorians, whose homes often had large, shady parlours. Our homes today are quite different, and fortunately the Clivia is a versatile plant, being able to cope with bright or poor light, and wet or dry conditions. I think they do best in diffused light conditions, especially in summer, as bright light can scorch the leaves. This has happened to my plants due to me leaving them in the conservatory when we went on holiday, and forgetting to put the blinds down! Fortunately it has only damaged them cosmetically.
The plants need watering and feeding most when they are in active growth, which is from spring to autumn. [In reality I probably don't feed mine as often as recommended.] They could even go outside into a shady spot in summer. They are not frost hardy. When brought back in, in autumn, ideally they should be kept dry for two months and the temperature reduced to 10-15˚C, which is why mine are in the conservatory. It's this cool, dry period that encourages flowering. I keep them as well lit as possible in winter because apparently being kept in low light conditions all the time inhibits flowering, too.
~~ Potting on and Propagation ~~
You could propagate from seed, but they take nearly a year to ripen. Chiltern Seeds sell seeds of a yellow Clivia at £3.65 for 3 seeds. Plants of Distinction have some more unusual colour ways and cultivars, starting from £7.25 per pack of 3 seeds. Division of offsets is likely to be easier; this is how I propagate them. Clivias like their roots to be quite restricted, but eventually the strength of the roots will begin to push the compost out of the top of the pot, especially where the plant has produced many offsets. One of mine has five offsets, and the plastic plant pot has actually become misshapen due to the roots pushing it out. When flowering has finished I shall propagate by separating any offsets with four or more leaves of its own. With a sterilised knife I shall cut it from the parent plant, being careful to make sure it has a few roots with it. I'll then place each small plant in its own little pot and water it carefully until I'm sure it's established. As it grows I'll pot it on into gradually bigger pots, until it's in one about 12 inches in diameter. It should then be OK for about 10 years with just a bit of topping up of the compost for maintenance. It's actually easier than it possibly sounds to do, and I have given flowering offsets away to friends as gifts on several occasions, although the books tend to say a young plant may not flower for a few years. My second plant is a single-crowned offset from the parent, and it has a large flower head about to bloom.
~~ A Note Of Caution ~~
All parts of the plant are toxic!
~~ How to Get One ~~
You could look in stores like Homebase or B&Q - I'm sure I bought mine in the former. My local Lidl store recently had them for sale at £5.50, I believe. To give you some idea of what you might pay elsewhere, Burncoose Nurseries sell a mature plant at £13.00: http://www.burncoose.co.uk/site/
~~ Other Notes ~~
Clivia Miniata has a range of popular names, including the Kaffir Lily, Bush Lily, St. John's Lily, Fire Lily. As well as Miniata, Clivia cultivars include Gardenii, Nobilis and Caulescens.
This is a plant I would really not want to be without, brightening up the late winter/early spring as it does. Even if it costs you to buy your plant, you are likely to be able to propagate extra plants from offsets before long, which can make it good value for money. 5 Stars: I definitely recommend this one!