Amaryllis Centerpiece

November 19, 2015 Amaryllis 007


You know the weather has shifted when I’m inspired to make a living centerpiece for our dining room.

We enjoyed watching our Amaryllis grow so much last winter, that I decided to start one early enough to enjoy over the holidays this year.


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The Great Big Greenhouse, near Richmond, carried some of the largest Amaryllis bulbs that I’ve ever seen .  They also have the largest selection of varieties I’ve found, anywhere.  Some of the ‘specialty’ varieties normally only found in catalogs, with exorbitant price tags, were right there in their bulb display at grocery store prices.

And so I selected a huge Amaryllis bulb last weekend, and four tiny ferns, for this arrangement.  A bulb this large would be expected to give several stalks of flowers.


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The ceramic bowl has no drainage.  It is much deeper and wider than the Amaryllis needs, which leaves room for a couple of  inches of aggregate in the bottom to afford drainage for the roots.  I’ve used a fairly coarse pea gravel to leave pockets for air or water.  Use only new, good quality potting soil for a project like this.  I’m using a lightweight mix of mostly peat and perlite.

Amaryllis need only their roots in soil.  The ‘collar’ of the bulb, where its leaves emerge, should be visible above the soil line.  In addition to the four tropical ferns, I’ve planted a tiny Strawberry Begonia and a tiny tender fern division, both rescued from an outside pot.  The soil is covered with sheets of moss lifted from an oak’s roots in the upper garden.

Maybe it is an odd idiosyncrasy, but I don’t like looking at potting soil in a living arrangement.  Who wants to look at a dish filled with dirt in the middle of their dining table, anyway? 


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Rarely do I leave a potted plant ‘unfinished,’ without at least a mulch of fine gravel over the soil anymore.  It is easier to water neatly, the plant needs less water, the plant stays cleaner outside in the rain, and it just looks better to me.

Since moss has no roots, it won’t grow down into the potting soil.  It will continue to grow only in the thin film of soil where it is already anchored. Press it firmly into the surface of the potting soil as you place patch beside patch.  I drop fine stones around the edges to help meld these pieces together, and to help retain moisture around the patches of moss.

Moss will live indoors so long as it remains hydrated.  You can mist it, or pour a little water over it every few days.  Keeping the mix evenly moist keeps the moss and ferns happy.   Watering occasionally with diluted tea (no cream or sugar, please) makes the moss happy, too, as it appreciates soil on the acidic side.

When I eventually break this arrangement up, in a few months, the moss should be transplanted back outside.  It can also be ground up and used to start new colonies of moss, even if it appears dead at that point.

This is a simple project which gives weeks of pleasure.  It would make a nice hostess gift over the holidays.


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If you’re ever tempted to order the glitzy Amaryllis gifts from your favorite catalog, consider making your own instead for a fraction of the cost.  Even a non-gardener can enjoy an Amaryllis bowl such as this one.

Simply add a little water, and enjoy!

Woodland Gnome 2015


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“If nature has made you for a giver,

your hands are born open,

and so is your heart;

and though there may be times when your hands are empty,

your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that-

-warm things, kind things, sweet things-

-help and comfort and laughter-

-and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”



Frances Hodgson Burnet



A Living Centerpiece

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Early December is often spent sprucing up our inside spaces for the holidays.  Not only do we spend more time indoors, but many of us will have family, friends, and house guests visiting this month and next.  We clean up, freshen up, and bring out our Christmas decorations in anticipation.


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All of the components for this arrangement


I love to have a beautiful holiday centerpiece on the dining room table, because that is where we gather with friends with our cups of tea or coffee.   A beautiful centerpiece brings a smile and lightens the spirit even when it is just us enjoying it.

This year I found a beautiful bowl I wanted to use as the base for a living floral design.   Living, so there are no dropping needles or berries  from cut greens to clean up late in the month.  I hope this looks even better in February and March than it does today.  Eventually I’ll move these ferns out to other pots and reclaim the bowl for the kitchen.


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Frosty Moss Fern, Selaginella kraussiana


The frosty moss fern, found at Trader Joe’s, is a tough little houseplant.  I bought my first ones  this time last year, and they lived in the window sill all winter.  Moved into a larger pot in the spring and grown out on the deck; they tripled in size, growing happily in the shade.  These cascade as they grow and send out aerial roots.  They like humidity and constant moisture.

The bird’s nest fern, found at Lowe’s, is another excellent house plant which enjoys the same growing conditions.  I moved the little Rex Begonia and fern planted a few months ago into the edges of this arrangement.  Their bowl was too little for them to grow long term.  I hope the Begonia will bounce back to fill in the edges of this arrangement.  I know the fern will grow well here.  Finally, I added one more tiny Rex found at Lowe’s in a 1″ pot to the edge of this design for some immediate color and contrast.  The ivy is a rooted cutting from ivy growing outside.

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When planting in a pot with no drainage, it’s important to add a few inches of coarse material to serve as a reservoir for water.  This helps prevent the soil from getting waterlogged if you over water.  I used a few inches of sea shells and gravel, and then added good potting soil with food mixed in.  Next came the plants, more soil to fill in the spaces around them, and finally a layer of gravel to dress the soil on top.  Always break up the root balls slightly and splay the bottom few inches of root to encourage their growth out into the surrounding soil.

Finally, I gave the entire arrangement a light spray at the kitchen sink to settle the soil and to rinse off the gravel.  These ferns appreciate the moisture on their foliage and will enjoy getting sprayed with cool water from time to time.   All of these plants enjoy high humidity and will dry out quickly.  It is important to check them every few days by touching the soil.  The top dressing helps conserve moisture.  Observing the color and texture of the foliage is another clue to the health and happiness of the plants.



When choosing plants to enjoy indoors during the winter, make sure to choose plants which can thrive in low to medium light.  If they begin to stretch out for light, move them to an area closer to your windows during the daytime and  when you aren’t at home, then move them back to the dining table in the evening or when you’re entertaining.


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Another small fern, and a Rex Begonia are planted on the back side, where they should begin to fill in within a few weeks.


Other excellent choices to work in a similiar container would be poinsettias, orchids, cyclamen, and ivy.  All of these tough and beautiful houseplants offer color and beautiful form, bloom during the winter, and are widely available in December.  Christmas cactus doesn’t make my list because it demands brighter light, and the flowers are messy when they drop.  I grow them, but keep them closer to the windows and grouped with other plants.


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So go ahead and construct a living holiday centerpiece now with an expectation to enjoy it for at least the next six to eight weeks.  Let its beauty and color add to your enjoyment of the holiday season.  It is not huge investment at all, especially if you use a container you already own.  This arrangement, including the $10.00 bowl, came in at about $22.00.  Every piece of it will be used again in another way after the holidays.

What a beautiful gift for your own family, or for a loved one.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome.

“If you really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile?…Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding…Smile with your whole being. ”

Thich Nhat Hanh


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