Force of nature
Spring bulbs make great holiday gifts because they can be tricked into blooming early. You can "force" out-of-season blooms easily with a little water, temperature fluctuation and light. The easiest bulbs to force are paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis because, unlike other spring bulbs, they don't require a "chilling" period to induce flowering. Find them at your local garden center or through mail order.
If you wish, you can force the bulbs first and create a gift already in bloom. However, half the fun of forcing bulbs is anticipating the bloom, so you may want to wrap up the materials, add an instruction sheet (see "Amaryllis Growing Instructions" and "Paperwhite Narcissus Growing Instructions" on page 30) and make part of the gift the joyful experience of coaxing beautiful blooms from the earth during winter.
One amaryllis bulb is all you need to create a spectacular winter display. When planted in its own soil-filled flowerpot for about four to seven weeks (depending upon indoor temperatures), the bulb will produce a tall cluster of huge, exotic-looking flowers that last for weeks. Choose a flowerpot that has drainage holes and allows for at least 1 inch of space between the sides and the bulb. (A 6-inch pot is usually about the right size.) Amaryllis bulbs are available in red, pink, white, peach, orange and even multicolored varieties.
For gift giving: Place the amaryllis bulb inside the empty flowerpot and set the saucer upside-down on top. Tie with raffia or ribbon to hold saucer in place. Attach the growing instructions to the flowerpot. Fill a small plastic bag with soil (enough to fill the pot later) and place inside the paper gift bag. Tie the bag with matching raffia or ribbon.
• 1 amaryllis bulb
• Clay flowerpot with saucer
• Organic potting soil
• Plastic bag (to hold soil)
• Paper gift bag
• Raffia or ribbon
Paperwhites produce masses of fragrant, dainty white flowers that brighten any room. Traditionally, they're forced in a shallow container filled with water and decorative stone. The stone supports the bulb while it blooms, but the roots are mostly unseen. For a more interesting look, grow each bulb in its own glass canning jar. The roots are visible through the glass, and the jars make for a spectacular composition when set in a group. You don't need any gravel because the sides of the jar support the leaves and stems.
For gift giving: Place one or two narcissus bulbs in each jar and tie each with raffia or ribbon. Place the jars in the basket or box and attach growing instructions.
• 4 to 8 paperwhite narcissus
• 4 glass canning jars (pint or quart size)
• Raffia or ribbon
• Basket or box to hold jars
Amaryllis Growing Instructions
1. Fill the flowerpot approximately three-quarters full with potting soil. Place the amaryllis bulb in the soil with the pointed end facing up.
2. Add more soil, leaving a third of the bulb exposed. Water well and place in a warm room.
3. Check the soil occasionally and only water when dry. The bulb will sprout leaves quickly and will be in full bloom in four to seven weeks.
4. One bulb can live for many years. To preserve it, cut off the flower stalk when it has finished blooming. Then move the pot outdoors or plant the bulb in the ground when all danger of frost has passed. It should bloom again the following year.
Paperwhite Narcissus Growing Instructions
1. Place one or two bulbs in each glass jar (pointed end up).
2. Add enough water so the bottom of each bulb just touches the bottom of eachjar. (Bulbs will rot if they sit in deep water.)
3. In a few days, roots will form and begin to raise the bulb up. Add more water as the roots grow so that the water level is just touching the base of the bulb.
4. Keep the narcissus in a dark, cool room (45 degrees Fahrenheit to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first couple of weeks while the roots develop. Then move them to a warm, sunny room. Keep the water level at the base of the bulb at all times until they're finished blooming. Unfortunately, the forcing process can be hard on narcissus bulbs, and they may not come back a second year. So when they're finished, you can discard them or try your luck at planting them in the garden.
Van Bourgondien Bulbs
Fresh herbs for the table
Give the gift of good taste with a personalized tabletop herb garden. Fresh herbs always taste better than dried, but in winter they might not be available through grocers. With a container, soil and several packages of easy-to-grow herb seeds, any cook can sprout fragrant leaves and edible flowers to add to hearty soups or pick as quick bouquets. If you're lucky enough to live near a well-stocked greenhouse nursery and have access to herb plants this time of year, you can eliminate the need for seed and just give herb plants.
• A window-box container
• Organic potting soil
• 4 plant markers and pencil
• Seed packets of nasturtiums, chives, basil and thyme
• Hole punch
• Twine or raffia
• New garden clippers (optional)
Fresh Herb Growing Instructions
1. Moisten soil, then plant seeds (following the package instructions) directly behind each plant marker.
2. Place window box in a sunny spot and water only when dry.
3. Harvest herbs as needed for cooking.
Fill a small plastic bag with soil (enough to fill the container later) and place inside the paper gift bag. Tie the bag with raffia or ribbon and attach growing instructions. Tie together seed packets, plant markers and new garden clippers with matching raffia or ribbon. Place them inside the container and tie the whole package with a bow.