Paperwhites

At Christmastime when I was about eleven years old, someone gave my mother a big pot of white narcissus, also known as Paperwhites. My mother was thrilled, as forced bulbs were an uncommon luxury in our small mountain town. She placed the pot in the room we call the Solarium with eight foot windows and filled every winter with ferns and tender geraniums she brought in from the cold. When the Paperwhites bloomed, their scent overpowered everything and to me they smelled just like urine. I could hardly abide being in the Solarium and wondered why on earth a flower like this was special.

Fast forward to the present time and perhaps it’s a case of a mature scent palate, just as a taste palate matures and an adult can enjoy a pungent bleu cheese that sends a child into convulsions. But Paperwhites no longer smell of urine, to me, and their loveliness at Christmas is something I’ve been coveting. A dear friend has a former boss who sends her a tubful of narcissus every year at the Holidays, a galvanized tub about two feet long and a foot and a half wide. She places them on an old wooden table in her kitchen and they bloom till Valentines Day, such a sight to behold.

This year I was determined to have Paperwhites of my own, though my own planting is much more humble than my friend’s tub. I have clear glass bowl I bought at a yard sale, thinking in would be useful in the kitchen. But I’ve discovered the glass is too thin- about the thickness of a wine glass- and I’m always afraid it will break disastrously while filled with food. The bowl has been telling me for a while now, “I’m a florist’s container, silly,” and I’ve known it needed to host Paperwhite narcissus this Holiday season.

I bought two pots of narcissus from a Bodega in Brooklyn the other day. They came filled to the brim with bulbs and potting soil, and wrapped in festive but ugly cellophane. The set up had to go:

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I separated the bulbs from the soil (which of course I saved to reuse) and gave them a good rinsing in a colander:

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Then I got some gravel from a pathway in a corner of our garden, gave it a good rinse too, and made sure the clear glass bowl was sparkly clean:

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I first placed a shallow base of gravel in the bowl, then arranged the bulbs as best I could for variation of height, their roots splayed across the gravel. I gently topped the roots with more gravel and filled in spaces so the bulbs were not touching each other. Then I added a little water to the bottom of the bowl.

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Some of the fronds were growing a little sideways in search of light, but I figured they would straighten on their own, and indeed they have. Two days after planting the bulbs are stock-straight and reaching for the sky. They are not yet in bloom but the tops are really starting to bulge and I can’t wait for the moment.

One thing I wasn’t careful enough about (but also wasn’t willing to re-do to solve) was ensure the roots were completely hidden by the gravel. But I figure if I keep the water level low in the bowl, the roots will seek it and grow downward. Of course, this wouldn’t matter if the bulbs were planted in something other than a clear glass bowl, but I’m happy my bowl has found a better purpose than a food container.

Here’s another glass container filled with beautiful Paperwhites, and a very lovely blog: katy elliott home, art, food.

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Enchanting Autumn Gardens

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Re-loving London, again. This past week I had a chance to spend a day there, something for which I’m always thrilled and grateful. Kensington Gardens was my place of choice to while away the afternoon, a warm one for England in October. The Gardens were teeming with visitors, and I met a few as I strolled, admiring bloom after bloom. One person I met was a young woman who I would guess, by her accent, was originally from Eastern Europe. She was tending a sweet little girl who shared a moment with me at a wall overlooking The Sunken Garden, where this photo was taken. The Nanny said they come to Kensington Gardens twice a day, for about three hours at a time. Can you imagine a more enchanted childhood, than spending six hours a day among trees and flowers and fountains in the shadow of a palace?

Remake in the Garden

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As autumn arrives in the Northeast, I’m torn between feeling melancholy that the growing year is over, or feeling a huge sense of relief. I begin each gardening season with high hopes and expectations, some of which are realized, others which succumb to a busy schedule, slugs, and weeds. Nonetheless, in my garden right now, zinnias, dahlias, and mums are all in bloom, creating a lovely foreground to reddening maples and burnished vines. The weather is still gorgeous, but soon it will be time to clean and put away the gardening tools, batten down the hatches, and start nesting for the winter. Then I’ll be left with my Pinterest Mistress and garden dreams for the year to come.  Continue reading

A Garden Grows in Brooklyn

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I’m rediscovering the neighborhood, so it seems, since we returned from our Hudson summer. Our apartment is in a gentrifying area, and I’m filled with ambivalence over this fact. While it’s nice that crack whores no longer patrol the corners, I’m sad that the family living a few doors down, including an elderly disabled gentleman, were displaced by the sale and renovation of their building while we were away. Where did they go? Almost certain, far from here, just as we would if our landlord pulled the rug out from under us. Changes that “improve” the neighborhood drive prices toward an ever-higher roof. Some say we have Mayor Bloomberg to thank, for engendering a New York City fewer people can access, but that’s a post for a different day.

This post is about a garden, rather a garden center, that has sprung up in a formerly vacant lot on a nearby commercial street. Continue reading

In the Weeds

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you’ll know the phrase to be “in the weeds:” to be behind in the work and overwhelmed! Sad to say, this seems to apply to many aspects of my life, so I use the expression all the time. And even sadder to say, it is the literal state of our lawn… worsening since we got our dog two summers ago.

The soil in our area is heavy clay, and our Large Breed really gets his ya-yas out in the yard. What was once a fairly decent lawn is now compacted turf full of clover, dandelion, plantain and creeping Jenny. Continue reading