The belladonna lily or 'naked lady' (Amaryllis belladonna), from South Africa, is one of the best known and easiest to grow of the late-summer-flowering bulbs of the Amaryllidaceae family, most of which do well in Sydney. Growing from a large bulb, it has a stout stem up to 75cm tall topped with dramatic clusters of flamboyant trumpet flowers coloured white, reds, various shades of pink, or pink with a white throat, suddenly appearing around February. They seem to come up almost overnight!
Amaryllis will grow in sun, part-shade or heavy shade, if this is cast by deciduous shrubs or trees that are bare of leaf in winter when the bulb is growing. It is very tolerant of neglect and can often be seen flowering in abandoned country gardens. It is best planted in well-drained soil in a sunny spot (although it can also cope with light shade from deciduous trees), with the bulb neck exposed above soil level. These bulbs prefer to be left undisturbed to form clumps, but if you do want to divide them this is best done in late spring or summer. They will often fail to flower the following summer after this operation but then they will settle down.
The large strap-like leaves appear after the flowers and are lush and attractive through winter, then die off rather messily in late spring to early summer. They are dormant over summer until they bloom, so should be kept fairly dry at that time, but enjoy a little moisture during their winter-spring growing period. However, in a very wet summer, I had more flowers than ever before! They benefit from some bulb fertiliser when the foliage is in active growth. It is possible to grow a loose groundcover around the bulbs to disguise the leaves when they are not at their best. Some of the Plectranthus groundcovers, such shiny green Plectranthus verticillatus (ht 20cm) and silvery Plectranthus 'Nicoletta' (ht 20cm), are suitable.
Cut stems can look spectacular in a tall vase!