Favorite or New Plant
For reliable winter color in my perennial bed, I've planted winter iris (Iris unguicularis). The flower buds first appear in October and are produced throughout the winter, opening in flushes during mild spells. The soft violet-colored flowers are nestled in the foliage and, like crocus, form on tubes rather than on stems. The sword-shaped foliage remains evergreen, but I cut it down in March to renew the plant. (The leaves look a little shop-worn by then!) Winter-flowering iris likes moderately rich, well-draining soil, and a spot that's sunny in winter but shady during the summer months. I often cut unopened flower buds and bring them indoors. When they open, they fill the room with the sweet scent of violets.
Clever Gardening Technique
Forcing Paper Whites
I always get carried away when purchasing spring-flowering bulbs. There's such an enticing assortment available -- blooming in colors and shapes I simply must have -- that I always end up with more bulbs than I have room to plant. If you ordered bulbs to plant this fall and didn't get them all in the ground, why not consider starting a few indoors to help chase away the winter blues?
I've found that the standard paper white narcissus, along with the yellow versions 'Grand Soleil d' Or' and 'Chinese Sacred Lily', grow well in water and pea gravel. The bulbs swell considerably during growth so place them at least 1 inch apart in your container. A 4-inch pot can hold one bulb. A 6-inch pot can hold three, and a 7-inch pot, five or six. Place bulbs so their necks stick out about 1/2 inch above the gravel surface. Fill with water to just below the gravel.
For best growth, put pots in a dark location with temperatures from 40 degrees to 55 degrees F for two weeks, or until you have 2 to 4 inches of top growth and a vigorous bed of roots. I think a cool basement or garage is perfect for this root growth phase of forcing. Once top growth is visible, bring the pots into a bright, warm place. In about four weeks you'll have a mass of blooms with a heavenly fragrance.