In Praise Of Paperwhites

eu43016-1020

In Praise Of Paperwhites

            The
longer I garden, the more I think that I need a little gardening every
day.  This can be as little as ten
minutes spent raking leaves or tending the houseplants or reading a good garden
book.  In a pinch it can even be the
time I spend getting the apple peelings out to the composter and giving the
cylinder a good turn or two.  The
important thing is to renew the connection every 24 hours.  I like to think that this encourages new
growth—inside my head as well as in the beds and plant pots.

            Some
years I have dispensed with paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta ‘Paperwhite’) all
together, but this year, it seems necessary to have lots of them.  I have not consulted the oracles about
whether this winter will be mild or severe, but for some reason I feel that it
is important to assure myself a continuing supply of blooms for the weeks and
months ahead.  In this respect I am no
different than the hundreds of squirrels that pass through my backyard every
day.  They gather their nuts and I
gather my bulbs and plants.  With luck I
will outdo the squirrels and remember where I put my treasures.

            Not
everyone adores paperwhites.  My
daughter, like many people, finds their fragrance cloying, especially as the
blossoms age.  I would not care to be in
a confined space with 300 blooming paperwhites, but I like the fragrance that a
pot of them gives to an average size room.  In economic terms, paperwhites are less desirable than other bulbs, such
as amaryllis and colchicum, that are easily forced.  Both of the latter can, with proper care, blossom again,while
most authorities say that paperwhite bulbs should be discarded after
blooming.  I noticed recently that
Llangvelds, a major packager of paperwhite growing kits, says that the bulbs
can be planted “deep in the garden” for repeat flowering the following
year.  Perhaps these directions work for
gardeners who live in the southern states (USDA Zones 9-11).  I have never known a northeastern gardener
who planted paperwhite bulbs after forcing.  I suspect that the results might be disappointing.

            Having
determined that the psychological benefits of paperwhites outweigh the
ephemeral nature of the bulbs, I have decided to invest in a quantity of
them.  That way I can plant groups of
bulbs every ten days or so to ensure a continuing supply of blooms starting
about four weeks from now. 

            Just
as all commercially grown African Violets (and a good many other house plants)
come from Canada, most of the commercially available paperwhites come from
Israel.  The most popular cultivar is
‘Ziva’, which is easy to grow, sports lots of bright white blossoms and an
intense musky fragrance.  At this time
of year you can venture out to any supermarket, greenhouse or mega-merchandiser
and pick up a box of ‘Ziva’ bulbs pre-planted in a plastic pot.  All you have to do is put the pot in a
reasonably well-lighted location, add water regularly and wait 4-5 weeks for
the blooms.  If you want to save a
little money, many garden centers, mail order and online vendors offer loose
bulbs.  You plant them yourself in
potting mix or in a shallow dish atop a bed of small stones.  Make sure about 1/3 of each bulb is above
the soil line, and water well, especially if your bulbs are rooting amidst
stones.  For continuous bloom through
the winter months, start groups of bulbs at two-week intervals.

            For
adventurous souls who want to go beyond ‘Ziva’, there are other paperwhite
cultivars, many of which seem to be named after Israeli sites.  ‘Bethlehem’, ‘Israel’ and ‘Nazareth’ have
yellow petals and cups, while ‘Galilee’ and ‘Jerusalem’ have pure white
flowers.  ‘Grand Soleil D’or’ features
yellow petals and an orange cup plus a delicate sweet fragrance.  This may be a good choice for those who find
‘Ziva’ overpowering.  ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’
has white petals and a cup described by the catalog copywriter as “cheddar
cheese” colored.  The fragrance is
categorized simply as “wonderful”.

            This
year, come winter, my house will not smell like mittens drying on the
radiator.  It will smell like
spring—perhaps spring in Israel, but spring nonetheless.  I am depending on the fragrance of
paperwhites to waft the stale odors of January and February out my dwelling and
out of my soul.

 


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