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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