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Mickey Rathbun: More about indoor flowering bulbs

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Last week I wrote about amaryllis, whose fat green bulbs produce majestic floral displays. But there are other bulbs that bring joy in smaller packages. Paperwhites are even easier to grow than amaryllis and they’re a lot quicker. Like amaryllis, paperwhites are tropical bulbs and therefore require no pre-chilling to bloom. So if you’re the impatient type, or have children who want instant results, go for paperwhites.

Paperwhites don’t need to be planted in potting soil. All they need is water and light. I put them in all sorts of containers, including cute little casserole dishes I received as wedding presents — in a bed of small white gravel, available in packages at garden and craft stores. If you want to be fancier, you can use more interesting stones, such as small, polished river stones, or clear or colored glass pebbles. I let the top of the bulb stick out, then water to a level just covering the root end of the bulb. Depending on the size of your container, you can grow one, three or more. If you use a glass container, you can see the roots growing. This is a plus if you have young, curious gardeners in your household.

Paperwhites come in a variety of colors and fragrances. Ziva, a popular white variety, is strong and spicy, Nir and Galilee, also pure white, have a milder scent. There are several colored varieties, including ‘Chinese Sacred Lily,’ which has white petals and an orange center, and ‘Grand Soleil d’Or,’ yellow with an orange center. Those with taller stems, including Ziva and Israel, (yellow), may need staking as they begin to flower. Those with shorter, sturdier stems, such as Ariel (white) and Bethlehem (yellow) won’t need extra support.

Hyacinths are another easy bulb to force. They come in many colors and their spicy scent fills a room. Unlike paperwhites, they are hardy bulbs and need to be pre-chilled before they can be forced into bloom. If the bulbs you buy aren’t pre-chilled, you can chill them by placing them in a dark, cool place (35 to 48 degrees) for eight to 16 weeks. Or, if you’re not starting early enough and don’t want to wait so long, put them in a mesh or other ventilated bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer. Keep them separate from fruit, which contains ethylene gas that is toxic to flower bulbs. Let them chill for five weeks or more, and they’ll be ready to “plant.”

There are special “forcing vases” in an hourglass shape that hold the flower bulbs just so they barely touch the water below. The roots should not be submerged; they will grow toward the water. Be careful not to put the bulb in the water or it will rot. I have learned this the hard way. Keep your bulb in a dark, cool place — 50 degrees or so — until the roots have developed and the green shoot is several inches tall. Check the water level periodically to keep the roots wet. Then, move the plant inside and keep it in a cool, dimly lit place for a few days so it can adapt to the warmer, brighter environment. Then, put it in a sunny window and turn it every few days so it grows straight.

Many years ago, I gave my kids’ wonderful piano teacher, Alisa Leiser, a sprouting paperwhite bulb in a simple glass cube filled with white pebbles. She was delighted. “I love it!” she said. “If I get another box of cookies or candy, I’ll scream.” Forcing paperwhites is about as easy as it gets, and no one will throw it out or shove it into the back of a closet.

Winter Reimagined at Tower Hill

Every year around the holidays, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston puts on a dazzling show of winter wonders. For the regular admission fee, daytime visitors are invited to explore the gardens, trails, conservatories and uniquely decorated trees and nature-inspired ornaments. Daytime admission is free for members.

As evening falls at Tower Hill, visitors have the opportunity to marvel at glittering lights displayed throughout acres of formal gardens. The prized collection of trees and shrubs, along with illuminated paths, sculptures and fountains, come to life in the glow of the lights. Inside, guests will see nature-inspired ornaments, a wishing tree forest, an up-cycled igloo and two towering conservatories brimming with subtropical plants and seasonal music.

The Garden Shop will be open, offering unique plant-centric gift ideas.

Winter Reimagined will run Friday through Jan. 7. Tower Hill will be open for daytime visits Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pre-purchased timed tickets are required for evening visits. Tower Hill will be open evenings for those with pre-purchased timed tickets Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4 to 9 p.m., and Fridays through Sundays, 4 to 10 p.m.

  The property, including the gardens, gate, parking, grounds and buildings, will be closed daily 3 to 4 p.m.

For information about admission times, tickets, parking, etc., go to www.towerhillbg.org/winter-reimagined-2017.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.