Paperwhites

Can we talk about paperwhites for just a minute? I know what you’re thinking: Any flower in the dead of winter is a good thing, right? Well, not necessarily. When you have to abandon a room for the sake of some big gobs of white flowers that are ridiculously easy to grow, then something is wrong with that picture.

I try not to be a scent snob. I can take hyacinths without hardly wincing. You won’t find me knuckling under even when a gardenia enters the room. But I have my limits. And paperwhites cross the line.

They’re a cinch to grow. I’ll give them that. They require no chilling period whatsoever. But then again, they shouldn’t be frozen and are more cold sensitive than other narcissus. As soon as you receive the bulbs, plant them. Or do it in waves if you want to endure an unpleasant scent over a prolonged period of time. Personally, I’m not a major fan of bleached white pebbles. But if you lean in that direction, here’s your chance to anchor bulbs in that medium, because that’s all they need.

Instead, I use potting soil. And, because paperwhites tend to become leggy and staking seems contrived to my tender sensibilities, I plant them in the bottom of a tall glass cylinder and let the sides do the propping (keep the glass container pulled away from the light when the paperwhites sprout or the tips will burn). This year, I also enlisted a chicken wire pyramid to shore up a batch of paperwhites. And yes, I’m forever in search of a paperwhite without the skunk association. I try, try again. Hope blooms eternal.

So, here’s the result of this year’s paperwhite trials. I avoided ‘Ziva’. Are you familiar with the smell of cat musk, by any chance? It could aptly be applied to ‘Ziva’. Have you encountered eau de moth balls in your travels? Well, it’s a close analogy. Think tart with a latrine undertone. Need I say more?

Instead, I tried ‘Inbal’ which wasn’t half bad until all five hundred flowers came onto the stage simultaneously. Then it got a little brash. Even better was ‘Ariel’ with a scent that was not only livable but likable until it started to get old. All of the above paperwhites stem from Narcissus papyraceus. But the real winner was ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ with Narcissus tazetta parentage, also considered to be in the paperwhite clan. ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is a flower of a different hue. And fume. Not only does it sport bright yellow petals with a gold tube, but its scent is positively delightful. Like a breath of fresh air in January.

Moral of the story = Your paperwhites and your nose can live happily ever after. Anyone else want to weigh in on this fractured fairytale? Go ahead, come to the defense of your favorite paperwhite. I’m open to suggestions. Fire away.

Oh and everyone = a new garden blog was just born. You’ve got to check out Notes from Juniper Hill at www.juniperhillfarmnh.com , it wins the beauty/content contest by a yard (and garden).

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8 Responses to Paperwhites

  1. Lisa from PA says:

    Tovah~ When I saw the picture of the paperwhites, my nostrils slammed shut! While they are quite lovely, the stink is just, well, stinky! I appreciate you and your nose testing out different varieties for us. I’ve grown them in the past and couldn’t believe the smell. Then by the following year I’d forgotten the stench and grew them again! Good memory, just short! I tried to check out the website for Juniper Hill Farms but that’s not where it took me. I was able to find them by googling Juniper Hill Farms in New Hampshire though. Lovely place. Put it on my favorites so I can check them out another time. By the way, I purchased a huge glass bowl in the shape of a brandy snifter yesterday at a rummage sale for 50 cents. I wrote down the shopping list of possible plants and the pebbles, charcoal, and potting soil I will need. I’m taking the list with me tomorrow on my bus trip to the Phila Flower Show. Maybe they’ll have everything I need to get started. I’ll look in the Reading Terminal Market as well. I’ll let you know what kind of plants I find to put in there~ Lisa

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Have you noticed that paperwhites get more intense after dark? Or were you wise enough to send them packing before the day ended? I’ll fix the Juniper Hill link = I should have checked it out. But don’t you love Joe’s blog? Good catch on the brandy snifter. Wish I could make it to the Phila Flower Show, but I’ve got too many conflicting lecture commitments this week. Here’s a tip — there’s usually a booth with a fellow selling bonsai plants in tiny pots. You can get some really inexpensive little plants from him. Bring your book along for suggestions. There’s usually also a vendor selling air plants — and they’re great for terrariums. I got lots of the plants pictured in the book from the Phila Show. Happy hunting! Report back on the “catch of the day.”

  2. Tovah, thank you for braving through several varieties to find one whose scent is tolerable. I’ve stayed away from paperwhites up till now because I agree with your nose, but I’ll now try Grand Soleil d’Or.

  3. Do you REALLY promise me ‘Grande Soleil d’Or’ doesn’t stink? I forswore paper whites after that first stinky experience years ago. I tried them again last year because I wanted to try the vodka trick to keep them short… it worked, which was fun, but they still stank. But if you tell me they’re good, I’ll give it a try and see.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Honestly, Joseph, for the first couple of weeks, I was actually going to the blossoms, inhaling deeply, and coming out with a smile on my face. When they started getting old, the love affair turned a little sour — or shall I say, musky. I await your verdict…

  4. For someone like me, who has their nose stuck in boxwood for most of the year…, I don’t smell a thing! I can’t wait to try ‘Grand Soleil d’Or,’ however; based on what you say, it just might refresh the whole olfactory system.

  5. Love your bulbs post and pine for the spring now that I am living in South Florida.

  6. Loved your bulb post and pine for the spring flowers of my youth. Now I live in Fort Lauderdale but I grew up in NJ.
    Robert

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