Christmas is coming (sorry…)

Chinese lanterns in the garden and in the house

Sorry… Sorry… Let’s talk about Christmas! No no, not this Christmas, Christmas next year. And let’s talk seed sowing, Chinese lanterns in particular.

The idea is that you sow the seed of Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkekengii, now and by Christmas next year you’ll have a mas of bright orange lanterns to use in your indoor Christmas decorations. And it’s not difficult.

As you may remember, the plants produce small, white and not very showy flowers in summer. These are followed in autumn by the vivid orange papery lanterns and inside each lantern is a red berry. This is an usual plant in that all parts of the plant can cause skin rashes – except for the ripe berries, which are edible. In a way, yew is similar: all parts of the plant are poisonous except for the fleshy red berry around its seed.

Anyway, sow seed outside in pots now. I’d suggest using a 12cm pot, sowing the seeds thinly, covering with half a millimetre of grit and leaving the pot in a sheltered place outside. The seeds will germinate before the winter, die down and then as they start to grow in the spring you can pot them up individually.

Later in the spring you can plant them out. And now comes the warning: Chinese lanterns are very very vigorous. Unless you have a large garden and can plant them in an out of the way corner they will romp into areas where they’re really not wanted.

The other alternative is to grow them in a large – preferably very large – pot. Just make sure the roots don’t escape through the drainage holes.

OK, this all sounds like a lot of trouble. But being able to use those fiery lanterns in Christmas decorations really makes it all worthwhile.

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