Bella Donnas


Amaryllis belladonna: Jersey lily, naked lady, belladonna amaryllis


A procession of naked ladies

We gardeners spend so much time and energy trying to cultivate plants which aren’t 100% suited to our gardens. We slave away, attending to our tender treasures’ every need, hoping and praying that we might be rewarded by a precious bloom, two if we are lucky. We doctor our soil, create shelter, move things around, fuss and feed, waiting for our just reward. We are no fools, so often we succeed. Our efforts validated, we feel a sense of satisfaction ….. until we encounter our precious charge growing where the conditions really are perfect.

belladonnas back-lit by the Mediterranean sun

Such is the case with Amaryllis belladonna, a plant that’s often ensconced at the foot of a sunny, south-facing wall, as per the text-book instructions. Occasionally one sees it growing well, especially in the South West where conditions are most similar to the bulbs’ native South Africa. Too often though it succumbs to our wet winters, poor drainage, incorrect planting or lack of sun to induce flowering.

The name ‘naked ladies’ derives from the absence of leaves at flowering time

Here in Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily, Amaryllis belladonna faces no such challenges. Walking in the charming but slightly dishevelled gardens of the Villa Comunale this morning I spied a row, some 60ft long, of immaculate belladonnas rising gracefully through the grass at the foot of a hedge. The fragrance, similar to that of white narcissi, carried gently on the breeze. Hundreds of shell-pink flowers glowed in dappled sunlight. This is how belladonnas should grow; elongated bulbs, standing proud of the soil, kissed by the sun and flowers bathed by warm air. Sheer perfection, and all, frustratingly, achieved without the slightest bother.

A bouquet of blushing bellandonnas