narcissus paperwhites
Gardens by @Botanygeek - James Wong

Narciso, Primavera, Plantas, Jardines

In the darkest days of midwinter, one plant never fails to lift my spirits the delicate paperwhite narcissus, with its pure white trumpets and a scent as uplifting as its flowers are elegant. Watching something grow and burst into flower indoors, when everything outdoors is winding down, is to me a real horticultural happy pill. The best news? There is perhaps no winter plant that is as easy and affordable to grow – and right now is the perfecto time to start.

bulbs are available through any catalogue or from energy garden centre at the time of year. Plant them up straightaway in a container of potting mix or bulb fibre. Place the bulbs about 3-5 cm apart, with the pointry end just below the surface.

Once the bulbs grow and bloom you will find they are a real showstopperespecially if planted in a large porcelain bowl which you can place near your front door so you get a burst of welcome fragance every time you come home.

Put the newly planted bulbs in a bright location in a cool room with an ambient temperature of about 20C and you should se the first signs of growth in as little as a week, with the plants beginning to flower within 4-6 weeks of planting.

Originally hailing from the Mediterranean, paperwhite aren’t hardy enough to grow outdoors in the UK, so they are traditionally always grown as houseplants. However, with the lower light levels and cosy warmth of most UK living rooms compared to their natural habitat, plants can grow long and leggy, with the flowers often toppling over. This is the only tricky thing about growing them – and it can be really heartbreaking when blooms you have been waiting for expectantly for weeks fall over just as they start to open.

Planting them close together helps prevent this, as does siting them in a cooler room. However, there is one surprising trick, according to the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University, that could give you the edge.

To do it, you need to go to your liquor cabinet and take out the vodka. The alcohol is toxic to the plants but, with the right dilution, instead of killing them, it merely stunts their growth.

Weirdly, this doesn’t affect the size, quantity or smell of the blooms, just the length of their stem. The alcohol leads to the growth of stouter, stockier plants, which are between a half to a third the normal length.

Once the plant’s green shoots reach 5 cm tall, start swapping the plain water in your irrigation for a cocktail of 1 part of vodka (40% alcohol) mixed with 7 parts water. This will give you a 5% alcohol solution, which is within the 4-6%range use by the Cornell team. Don’t add more, as according to their researchers, solutions above 10% can result in damage to the plants. Not to mention that wasting good vodka in the countdown to Christmas is just bad manners, according to me.

  • up straightaway: En seguida
  • pointry: puntiagudo
  • especially: sobre todo
  • showstopper: espectáculo
The observer Magazine 28-10-2018