Paper­whites

Plant a dis­play of pa­per­white nar­cis­sus

The Guardian - Weekend - - Front Contents -

The scent of pa­per­white nar­cis­sus sur­passes heady into some­thing al­most nar­cotic. I’m not sure I’d want to be trapped in a room stuffed with them, but a del­i­cate bowl of the thin white blooms is quite some­thing to come home to in the darker days of win­ter.

Paper­whites, Nar­cis­sus pa­pyraceus, are na­tive to Mediter­ranean ar­eas from north­ern Africa to south­ern Spain and south­ern France, where they are most likely to be found grow­ing in grassy, cul­ti­vated land and stony places – free-drain­ing, sunny spots. In our cli­mate, your best bet is to grow them in­side. Plant from now to De­cem­ber and they will mag­i­cally bloom six weeks later in a room that is about 21C. They take longer in cooler rooms, so one way to stag­ger bloom­ing is by keep­ing some in a cooler space un­til you want them to flower. You can or­der on­line from nu­mer­ous places, but your lo­cal gar­den cen­tre may well have bulbs, too; I’ve also picked up bar­gains from super­mar­kets.

The flow­ers are small, 2cm across, and white with creamy sta­mens at the cen­tre. Each flower spike has up to 15 flower heads. If you have a chance to se­lect bulbs choose the fat­test ones as th­ese of­ten have two stems per bulb. ‘Ziva’ (pic­tured top and be­low) is a pop­u­lar pure white cul­ti­var and ‘In­bal’ has ex­tra flow­ers per spike but is of­ten pricier.

You can get away with us­ing any num­ber of con­tain­ers to grow them in as long as they are deep. Nar­cis­sus have a huge root mass and won’t like any­thing shal­low, which of­ten re­sults in the plants fall­ing over with the weight of their own blooms, so go deep – 20cm or so. You can get away with a con­tainer with­out drainage for dis­play pur­poses, but it makes more sense to use a plant pot as once the fo­liage has died back you can store the bulbs to be re­pot­ted in fresh com­post for next year’s dis­play.

Place the bulbs (cen­tre) cheek by jowl for a dense dis­play, pointy end up, just be­low the sur­face. The first signs of a shoot may al­ready be ap­pear­ing, so plant care­fully so as not to dam­age this. If you want to be fancy, put moss around the top to cover the soil. Wa­ter weekly, but spar­ingly; the soil needs to be damp, but not wa­ter­logged. There’s some ev­i­dence that giv­ing the plants a shot of vodka as the flower spike ap­pears will make for more com­pact growth. This is de­sir­able as the blooms start off about 30cm high, then con­tinue to grow as they open, even­tu­ally turn­ing leggy and fall­ing over un­less staked. If you don’t want to go the vodka route, a few care­fully placed dog­wood or twisted wil­low or hazel stems art­fully ar­ranged into the dis­play will solve the prob­lem

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