Scented bulbs

by Adam Pasco

Breathe deeply as you enter my sitting room this month and you'll take in the powerful, almost intoxicating fragrance of paper-white narcissi.

Paper-white narcissus flowersBreathe deeply as you enter my sitting room this month and you’ll take in the powerful, almost intoxicating fragrance of paper-white narcissi.

I planted the Narcissus papyraceus bulbs last autumn, in a glass bowl layered with gravel. All I've done since then is to occasionally top up the reservoir of water beneath the gravel, just enough to get the bulbs growing and to sustain the display.

These indoor paper-white narcissi (or daffodils if you prefer) are primed and ready to grow before you even buy them. All you need do is add water to set them off, which start with emerging green shoots of leaves and flower stalks, with pure white roots anchoring the bulbs down into the gravel. These are hardy bulbs, so they don’t need a warm room to get them growing. In fact, they prefer cool conditions, which keep the stems stocky. Spoil paper-whites with warmth during these early stages and their stems get drawn and lanky. The stems are further weakened by an excess of shade, and will topple under the weight of the glorious flower heads as they open.

No, cool but light conditions are what paper-white narcissi need. My unheated greenhouse bench, which has been almost empty over winter, has been a perfect home for the developing daffodils.

As the paper-white flowers open, they release their strong, distinctive scent and I bring the bowls indoors. I know they won’t last long, and grown in gravel in this way the bulbs will exhaust their inner reserves, so won’t survive for another year. But gardening is all about enjoying the moment, and I'm sure we could all do with a pot a fragrant flowers to brighten up the house in the depths of winter.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2009 at 10:11

i agree they smell great, i have some as well, they flowered in the first week of januray, i will buy more for next year, i grow mine on a windowsill from november,

Gardeners' World Web User 05/02/2009 at 17:13

Yes, Paperwhites are beautiful and remind me of my grandparents who would always have a potful at some point during the winter. However the nose is a personal organ and some people say they smell off burnt plastic. When homegrown they tend to get quite tall, so it pays not to bring them out into light to early. You should just see the bud appearing and then still they will need some support.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/02/2009 at 12:50

I love all perfumed plants, my paperwhites were in flower in Dec and I brought them inside once they flowered a short term but extremely sweet & intense perfume greeted me every morning. will try growing them in the gravel next year, always used soil until now.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/02/2009 at 14:23

Response to Daisy: I'm sorry to hear of your disappointment that your preferred choices aren't on this year's Gardens to visit voting list. The list is comprised of gardens that have chosen to participate in our 2-for-1 Gardens to visit scheme. It could be that any gardens absent from the list were invited to participate but declined to do so. Best wishes, Daniel The Gardeners' World web team

Gardeners' World Web User 06/02/2009 at 14:24

I planted 5 healthy paperwhite bulbs in gravel, they all grew well and started to produce flower spikes, but only one actually fully developed and opened into lovely flowers, the other all dried up. After reading Adam's comments above, it appears I may have put them somewhere too warm. Does anyone know if this is why they didn't flower, or is there any other reason? I will try again next year!

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