Plant a display of paperwhite narcissus
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