We have no bleak midwinter in Bermuda, at least not from a floral point of view. Agrippina rosebushes burst into crimson blossoms, and annuals fill our hanging baskets and borders with the vibrant colours of impatiens, petunias and phlox. However, our bulbs bring us the promise of spring even before the longtails return in late February. For example, January lilies (otherwise known as James lilies) accent our gardens with their arresting burnt-orange flowers. These bulbs should be planted in November with their necks above the soil. Once they develop leaves, they prefer full sun to partial shade.
More delicate and fragrant are the jonquils that grow in our gardens and on grassy hillsides from December through early February. The word comes from the Spanish junquillo, which means “rush,” and certainly their leaves are rushlike. These plants with small white flowers with drooping heads and yellow or white centres belong to the amaryllidaceous family. Botanically they are known as narcissi. Their name is often associated with the Greek youth Narcissus, who according to myth fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Ah, vanity, all is vanity. In some versions of the story, he pined away, while in others he reached into the water to embrace his image and drowned. But all stories agree that he was transformed into a flower that became known as a narcissus. The flowers are also associated with the Greek underworld, where they were said to grow in the meadows of the dead.
However, in Bermuda we associate them more with Christmas than with mythology, because grown in pots or in glass containers they make beautiful additions to Christmas decorations. Plant them between Thanksgiving and the first of December and they should flower in time for Christmas day. Although they grow well in soil, they can also be planted in decorative gravel that comes in all sorts of colours. Fill a quarter of the container with the gravel, and press the base of the bulbs into it. Then add water to the top of the gravel, being careful not to let the bulbs sit in the water. Too much water can rot them. Soon the leaves will sprout and by Christmas the blossoms will fill the air with fragrance.
Once the flowers wither, it’s important to let the leaves die so that the nutrients in the plant go back into the bulbs. Then you can plant them in your lawn or borders and be rewarded the following year by another winter show. The time at which they blossom can vary according to location. In gardens facing south or southwest, the flowers can be finished before Christmas, but plant them facing north and they keep flowering through January. In any case, when we see them flower, we know they are precursors to our February freesias.