Archive for the ‘Bulbs and Tubers’ Category

Growing paperwhites
Andrea Bellamy |

paperwhite bulbs

There’s really nothing simpler.

1. Place paperwhite bulbs in jar/vase/pot/bowl.
2. Cover the bottom two-thirds of the bulbs with potting soil, pebbles, or marbles.
3. Add water.
4. Stand back.

paperwhites and watering can

Most paperwhite-growing advice says the bulbs take about six weeks to mature, but that simply isn’t true. These guys were blooming in two-and-a-half weeks. That means there’s still time to grow them as Christmas or holiday housewarming gifts.

paperwhite blooms

Talk about almost instant gratification.


In six weeks, they’ll be flopping all over the place (unless you included booze in their watering schedule).


Earth Day garden and baby update

erythronium shadow.jpg“Oh the days are long/ ‘Til the baby comes…” – Sinead O’Connor

That’s right – I’m still waiting for this baby. One week past my due date and just learned today that the baby, which for the last nine months has been perfectly positioned, has rotated and is now posterior. This just confirms my suspicions that he or she will be a shit disturber.

There are about a million things you can do to try to rotate a posterior baby; one of them is getting onto your hands and knees as much as possible. Scrubbing the floors on all fours was suggested. Since that has about as much chance of happening as this baby being born on Earth Day, I decided to crawl about my back garden instead. While I was there, I thought I’d snap some photos.

Fawn lily.jpg

The two above photos are of BC-native yellow fawn lily (erythronium; aka trout lily or dog’s-tooth violet). I believe this one is Erythronium grandiflorum but I can’t quite remember I’ve moved the bulbs from house to house as I moved over the years. They look delicate but are naturalizing well and survived last week’s hailstorm nicely.

maidenhair fern.jpgEven people who claim not to love ferns have to appreciate the unfurling of this maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), right?

sword fern fiddlehead.jpg

And the site of fiddleheads – so cute! – on my Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). You have to love those, too, or you’re just not wired right.

huckleberry buds.jpg

My new evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) will hopefully provide me with some berries this summer.

firegold maple leaf.jpg

All three of my Japanese maples are in various stages of unfurling. This is Acer palmatum ‘Firegold,’ which, when viewed from below when the sun’s shining on its leaves, is just this incredible blazing red. Hence the ‘fire’ in its name, I suppose. This could also be ‘Fire Glow’ – I bought it from the Japanese Maple Guy at the farmer’s market and haven’t found many references to ‘Firegold’.

Acer palmatum beni kawa.jpg

I love my Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ – the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.

virdig maple.jpg

Finally, here’s Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’ – with its lovely weeping form – making its appearance. Hopefully this baby isn’t far behind. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Growing paperwhites in January
Andrea Bellamy |


I’ve always grown paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) for the holiday season – force of habit, I guess. But this winter I just didn’t get around to picking up any bulbs, and before I knew it, it was all “Happy new year!” and I had no stinky white flowers in my house. On a jaunt to the local hardware store in early January, however, I noticed paperwhite bulbs in the clearance bin, and picked up a few for almost free.

I’ll never go back to forcing bulbs pre-Christmas. I appreciate my little pot of paperwhites so much more now that the rush of parties and family gatherings and excess baking is over. The house is filled with glitz in December, anyway – it’s nice to have something that I can enjoy now in this quiet, introspective month.


One last thing about paperwhites: I tried the vodka-stunting method last year, and while it did prevent the stems from growing too tall and floppy, it also seemed to reduce the life of the blooms. Or maybe I just gave them too much. Regardless, I did without this year, instead rotating the pot a quarter turn every couple days. Seemed to keep ’em straight and sober.

Okay, I guess it’s two last things: When they’re finished blooming, I plant the bulbs in my boulevard garden. They’ll bloom again in two years.


First snowdrop
Andrea Bellamy |


Today, a milestone – the first snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) of the year! It seems early, but I don’t seem to have recorded its first appearance before. (Note to myself in 2009: I actually noticed the first bloom about a week ago, but it was only this weekend that I had enough light to photograph by, having to leave the house in the dark and return in the dark. Who invented this “daylight savings” time thing, anyway?)

Happy Valentine’s day
Andrea Bellamy |


Crocuses aren’t usually the flower that immediately springs to mind when I think of Valentine’s Day. But according to the Royal Horticultural Society, Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus, is also known as St. Valentine’s Rose. I looked it up, and found this here:

Crocuses flower around Valentine’s Day. Krokos was the Greek name for the saffron crocus. It was considered to be an aphrodisiac. The legend about its origin is of Zeus and Hera making love so passionately that the heat of their ardor made the bank on which they lay burst open with crocuses.

Steamy! I wonder if that myth was the originator of the bed-of-scattered-rose-petals romantic stereotype commonly seen in Hollywood movies.

Regardless, happy valentine’s day, readers! May we all spread a little love around today. The world could certainly use some.

Photo via Wazka (Flickr).


Update: Paperwhites love vodka
Andrea Bellamy |

As an update to an earlier post that cited a study showing that small amounts of alcohol (rubbing or martini-ready) can limit the sometimes-overzealous growth of bulbs such as paperwhites, I’m here to report that it’s true!

I wasn’t forward-thinking enough to grow a control batch of bulbs so show my readers (next year I will for sure) but I’m certain that my paperwhites aren’t as tall and floppy as last year’s. In fact, the splash of vodka I added to their drink seemed to positively reinvigorate them. I guess they like a good stiff drink as much as the next person.


Has the fat lady sung for my paperwhites?
Andrea Bellamy |

I was always told that paperwhite bulbs were only good for one round of forcing, and to throw them away after the party ended. Of course, I had to at least try to get them to bloom again. I saved last year’s forced bulbs and replanted them, hoping to force them for Christmas. Sadly, only one of the five bulbs bloomed this year.

So, I’ve decided to try planting them outdoors, after reading that you cannot force the same bulbs year after year – oops! – with the exception of amaryllis, but that some gardeners have success replanting the bulbs in their yard.

I’ve learned that when you force a bulb, you interrupt its natural growth cycle. But apparently if you replant them soon after they finish blooming, bulbs will usually return to their normal cycle within a year or two.

Has anyone ever tried this? Did it work for you?


Bulb thieves
Andrea Bellamy |

Over at Takoma Gardener, Susan reveals her secret to detering squirrels from stealing her bulbs: she scatters red pepper flakes over her bulb plantings. Brilliant!


To do: Coax Paperwhites

There’s something untoward about the term, “forcing bulbs.” I always feel for the poor mistreated bulb: was it bullied? Terrorized? Coerced? That’s why I prefer coaxing.

Whatever you choose to call it, forcing bulbs refers to the act of creating conditions that mimic nature’s springtime, confusing the bulb in winter. My favourite bulb to coax is the paperwhite, or, Narcissus tazetta ssp papyraceus.

Paperwhites are so easy to grow and require only four-six weeks to bloom. And that makes now the time to plant for beautiful blooms (and that fragrance!) just in time for Christmas and Hannukah. You can plant them almost anywhere: in potting soil in a container, or in rocks in the bottom of any vase, bowl or container. The important thing to keep in mind is that the top third of these bulbs always needs to be above the soil/growing medium. My experience has been that the stems eventually require some staking to keep from flopping over, so this year I am going to try growing them in a tall, clear hurricane vase in dark, coarse sand. My hope is that the vase will support the stems as they grow while still displaying the blooms to advantage. I’ll let you know how it works out.


Guernsey Lily
Andrea Bellamy |

Phoenix Perennials, a Vancouver nursery specializing in “Distinct Perennials, Fragrant Shrubs, Hardy Subtropicals and the Botanically Intriguing” sent this grey-day-defying Nerine bowdenii (Guernsey Lily) to my inbox. According to their e-newsletter, Nerine bowdenii is perhaps one of the most colourful flowers for the late September and October garden. Nerine bowdenii is the only semi-hardy variety (it’s a South African species of bulb, so most are tender). Blooms in bright candy pink…Wants full sun and protection from cold. Zone 8. Read more here.


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