The skies really are bigger in Texas…

28 12 2011

I discovered this one above the local Target store at 8:00 a.m. the day after Christmas and couldn’t pass it up!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus)

31 01 2011

I force paperwhite bulbs every year and always forget about their scent—when they begin to bloom and I haven’t noticed yet, I walk around the kitchen and living room and ask myself, “what is that smell?” You’d think I’d learn! I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the smell. It’s okay when you get the first whiff of it, but I made the mistake of moving them from their usual place in the kitchen (which I rarely inhabit) to a table in the living room (where you’ll find me if I’m not in my studio). And I’ve had a mild headache ever since doing so. Wonder why? I’m tempted to call it a day (or a bloom) and pitch them, but some blooms haven’t opened yet and I just can’t bring myself to interrupt the blooming process, obsessive gardener that I am.

I just read a post on Margaret Roach’s blog,, about paperwhites and the trick to keeping them from flopping over (gin, vodka or rubbing alcohol). She also mentions that adding a few drops of bleach might limit the strong scent (if you find the scent offensive, that is). Margaret was the first garden editor of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Go check out her blog—it’s wonderful!

I also learned something from the reader comments: Brent of Brent & Becky’s Bulbs says that the Israeli hybrids are the ones that “stink.” Most likely mine are the ‘Ziva’ hybrid that dominate the market for forced bulbs. He recommends one of the newer Israeli introductions, ‘Inbal,’ which has a nice fragrance. I’ll look for that hybrid in their catalog—but it’s still so convenient to get my $5-after-Christmas-sale-deal at Target, complete with the pot and growing mix—despite the stinkiness. I’ll just keep them in the kitchen again next year.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

In bloom today: Amaryllis

9 01 2011

My friend Karen gave me this Amaryllis plant a few months ago and it is almost completely in bloom today (three out of five blossoms have opened!). Amaryllis bulbs originated in the Andes mountains of South America. The bulbs are tender, so they can only be grown outdoors in Zones 9-11. They are one of the easiest bulbs to force indoors. The term ‘forcing’ refers to inducing a plant to grow (shoot, leaf and flower) ahead of its natural schedule and out of its natural environment.

The plant needs a well-lit and warm place to grow, but after the buds begin to open, move the plant to a cool and shady location to keep the blooms longer. When the flowers begin to wilt, cut them off at the top of the stalk. Cut the stalk just above the bulb when it begins to droop. Water and fertilize as normal until the leaves turn yellow, then cut the leaves back two inches from the top of the bulb. Remove the bulb and store in a cool dark place for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. You can repot the bulb after that and begin the whole (bloomin’) process all over again!

I took advantage of Target’s after-Christmas 75% off sale and have added another Amaryllis plant to the kitchen window sill (not blooming yet) and two pots with Paper White Narcissus bulbs. I grew Paper Whites two years ago and learned quite a bit about the process. My favorite Narcissus photograph and that experience can be seen on my blog here

Paper White stalks can get quite leggy and often require staking. I just learned how alcohol (vodka, tequila, whiskey or rubbing alcohol) can keep Paper Whites from falling over here.  

Isn’t it ironic that alcohol makes people fall over but plants stay upright?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Name that bulb (or, how I got the shot after all)

2 06 2008

Apparently I wasn’t quite as absentminded and unprepared as I thought I was (see previous post on forgetting to put a CF card in my D300)! A few days ago, I shot a handful of photos in the front and backyard gardens, came into the house, took the card out so I could take it downstairs to “process,” and got sidetracked by the cat. She climbed onto the suitcase to nap and I grabbed my camera and began to shoot. I didn’t see the images in playback and realized there was no card in it. And I didn’t remember taking it out (it was a long day; cut me some slack!). Late this afternoon, I saw a CF card on the edge of the coffee table in the library and wondered what was on it. I popped it into the camera…and voila!—there were the images I had shot the previous day.

This image is of a Smith & Hawken forced bulb kit I bought at Target’s after-Christmas sale in early January. I think it was discounted 75% down to $5.00. I bought it primarily for the cool faux moss pot. I planted the bulbs while in Texas visiting my family and the pot traveled back to Virginia the end of January, not growing even a smidge. They sat in our kitchen, basking in sunlight on a bench. Still no growth. Several weeks past the time spring bulbs normally bloom, they were relegated to the front porch and watered regularly (including getting completely soaked during several rainstorms…had to turn it on its side to drain since it was meant for indoors and thus had no drainage holes in it).

About two weeks ago, the shoots finally had a growth spurt, and late last week, blooms began appearing. I propped it up on the porch railing (rather precariously), nestling it on the wild-gone-rampant vine that covers the railing each year (another vine I planted about five years ago. It flowers in mid-summer with a profusion of puffy baby’s breath-like clusters of white flowers…the name escapes me, but I swear the vine grows several feet each day (not an exaggeration).

I thought the bulbs in the planter were going to be daffodils but now that they’re blooming, I think they might be Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta). I’ve forced paperwhites several times and the flowers are usually larger than these, though. Plus, the scent of these flowers is not as strong as I remember paperwhites being! I would love a confirmation on the plant’s identity, nonethless. Any takers?

Plant identification update: I got a good whiff of the flowers this afternoon and they are definitely Paperwhites—the scent is so much stronger when they’re forced indoors (some people like the scent, some don’t).

FORCING TIPS: If you don’t mind the strong scent of Paperwhites, and would like to try growing them this winter, here’s a good site to visit:

You can even buy them on this site:

If you use alcohol in the water, you’ll keep Paperwhites from becoming too leggy. Read about this tip here:

BEWARE: Do keep in mind that Paperwhites are toxic to cats, so if you have cats, either don’t grow them or keep them out of reach (the Paperwhites, not the cats!). I have grown them a few times (out of reach because the location was best for sunlight) and the cats couldn’t reach it. I wouldn’t take any chances, though, if you have cats. After learning about the toxicity, I haven’t grown them indoors. Other houseplants that are the most toxic to cats include sago palm, lilies, tulips, daffodils, azaleas, oleander and cyclamen. For 17 common poisonous plants, visit this site:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.