'Tis the season of holiday parties and the ever-dreaded gift exchanges. No one wants to be the bearer of a Chinese auction loser. Consumables come to mind as safe options, but with so many folks limiting their diets, your famous fudge may not be the hit it was in seasons past. Fortunately one can find ideas to fit every budget in the garden department.
Forcing bulbs requires neither a green thumb nor an ongoing care commitment. The bulb contains the plant. Just add water and light and voila, a flower! When the flower fades, toss it out. Its job is done. The price is up to you. For $5 to $6 one can buy the bulbs without a pot and call it good. You may have some odds and ends of glasses or vases which make perfect containers as no soil is required.
Paperwhite narcissi are a classic choice. Though they do come in yellow, the white is more commonly found. These fragrant, small-flowered gems are not cold hardy here and thus are a seasonal houseplant. The foliage tends to be floppy, so they look better in a hurricane or flared vessel. Placing a few pebbles or glass marbles at the bottom of a clear container looks great and helps anchor the bulb. One can place one in a tall glass and group three or so of these for an elegant effect. If you have it, sprigs of winterberry among the flowers really pop.
Another idea for one-bulb-to-a-customer is the hyacinth. These come in many colors and are intensely fragrant. If you are planning to pass them around to your cubicle mates, let me caution you. My daughter once forced a number of them in her college dorm room. You could smell them at the front door of the building. By the time you reached her third floor room, the odor was overwhelming.
I was an adult when I saw my first amaryllis. I was captivated by the spectacular flowers. This remains my favorite forcer. They are generally grown in soil rather than water. Kits containing the bulb, pot and soil are widely available at a reasonable price. If you allow the foliage to grow and age after the flower is done, the bulbs can be planted in the garden. Paperwhite (Day 22)
I see wonderful bouquet-like bowls of forced bulbs in catalogs. Advance planning is required to do this at home. Tulip and daffodil bulbs must be chilled for six weeks to bloom. One can do this in the fridge; however, bulbs and fruits may not play well together. Ripening fruit produces ethylene gas which inhibits the bulbs' growth. Fruits which are harvested ripe such as berries do not produce this gas. If you can find the bulbs, it is not too late to get started for Valentine's Day.
If you'd enjoy receiving a bulb to force, then it might be just the thing to brighten the short winter days for someone else.
Native Californian Ann Bartlett never lets a lack of experience with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home.