An amaryllis by any other price will grow as well



I’m not ashamed to say that I’m tempted to browse gift catalogs at this time of year, in spite of the waste of trees they represent. But outside of one or two vendors that cater to serious geeks and are reasonable, many of the “gifts for gardeners” offerings are overpriced and wasteful examples of their kind.

Among the strangest phenomena are the many amaryllis offerings. A reputable bulb company will sell you a single amaryllis (actually hippeastrum) bulb for anywhere from $5-10. However, if you choose instead to select a gift “presentation” complete with one bulb and a nursery pot from a certain holiday gift catalog, you will find yourself paying $27. Choose a ceramic cachepot and you’ll be paying $54. One bulb. The same one you paid $8 for, and we won’t discuss shipping.

As for forced bulbs, the sky’s the limit. It’s a wonderful idea to send someone something that will burst into flower after they have received it, but I would want to make sure they could replant the bulbs if they wanted to and that the gift would really look as it does in the catalog. I sent a lucky bamboo set to my mother-in-law once only to find the glass container was not included. She got two pieces of bamboo and maybe some stones. How impressive.

For a few years, I have been putting together my own bulb gifts and they’ve mostly been successful (except for some of the hyacinths the recipients insisted in keeping in hot, dry offices—they were a bit stunted). It’s fun and nothing needs to be shipped. Though, that’s the one thing I’d like to copy from our catalog friends: their shipping expertise. I’d like to send some ready-to-go hyacinths to out-of-town friends without squashing the emerging bud. Or, the heck with that—maybe I can get into this racket and convince people they need to pay $60 for my top-quality hyacinths in their special Victorian keepsake pots. Shipping not included!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I once saw GIANT amaryllis at the Flower Show in New York brought there by Dutch Gardens. I suppose amaryllis like that would be worth the catalog price tag–but I don’t trust a catalog to ship anything that amazing. Please correct me if I’m wrong, Elizabeth.

    I love amaryllis and must confess, I buy mine at Lowe’s. They’re usually about $4 each. Kind of puny, but I put a couple to a pot and they never fail to cheer me up in mid-winter.

  2. Oh, goodness, I have 2 from Home Depot–they were like $6. They come up every year for me and I do nothing–no dormancy. I have 2 others from van Engelens. I think.

    I just treat em like houseplants. Outside in the summer.

    I would like to have the more exotic ones, but I already am maintaining 4. All red–so boring. How did that happen.

    The one above is from the show at our Botanical Gardens last year.

  3. I was thinking on this last night, Eliz. As I too always guffaw when I receive certain overpriced catalogs. But then I thought it is not just these bulbs – it is the $$ restaurant salad entree you could make better at home; the pricey new bestseller you can borrow free from the local libary; the freshly starched shirt from the dry cleaners that you could easily iron yourself; etc. There are lots of things people way overpay for IMHO.
    So why do people pay for these and not DIY? I think a combo of ignorance, time-crunch, laziness, pride (who me, step foot in a public library?), and just looking for convenience – they want to dial 800 # or go online and it is done – no need to buy dirt, a pot, AND a bulb and dirty your hands then have to package it up nicely and drag it to the post office. Is that worth $30+ extra? Not for me, but obviously for some folks it is.

  4. I can’t iron like the drycleaners. My idea of total indulgance would be to have all my ironing done by someone else. I have threatened to stand in the middle of the local big box bookstore with a bullhorn and command people to go to the public library. I think public libraries could increase their traffic if they would have coffee shops(though eating and drinking while reading a library book was a major sin when I was growing up) and Sunday hours.

  5. Tibs, we have a fantastic public library in Saratoga Springs that my family and I use constantly. The keys are, as you say, a cafe that allows me to stop my thirsty and/or starving children from whining, children’s librarians who are so great that my kids always want to be on that floor, and an unbelievable collection of American movies on DVD. I know, I know, I should be reading contemporary novels instead–but I’m too busy watching Lubitsch and laughing.

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