Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Let's Raise A Glass To Paperwhites

I’ve never been one to advocate hard liquor, but when it comes to paperwhites it’s another matter. It turns out that the way to keep them from flopping over is to get them to fall off the wagon.

It all started when Bill Miller, a professor of horticulture at Cornell and the director of the university’s Flowerbulb Research Program, decided to check out a report about a gardener who doused paperwhites – Narcissus tazetta – with gin and water and in so doing stunted their growth. The pickled paperwhites were fragrant and floriferous – but they didn’t grow tall enough to flop over.

Intrigued, Miller went to work. Here’s what he discovered: Give these long-stemmed, small-flowered narcissi a nip and they’ll grow one-third to one-half shorter. He thinks it’s because the alcohol makes it harder for the bulbs to absorb water. It’s stress that stunts the stems and leaves but not the flowers.

But you have to mix the cocktail just right. As with humans, when it comes to alcohol, moderation matters. Miller’s recipe calls for a four to six percent alcohol solution – higher than 10 percent and your narcissi go from tipsy to wasted. To get the right brew from a 40-percent distilled spirit, just add one part booze to seven parts water. Apparently, paperwhites aren’t too particular about their poison – it doesn’t have to be gin. Vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila and schnapps will do as well. Even rubbing alcohol works – although you’ll need to mix one part alcohol with 10 parts water. But forget about beer and wine. The sugar will make your paperwhites keel over – permanently.

I’m going to try it when I start potting up my paperwhites over the next couple of weeks. Miller suggests planting as usual, but once the roots are growing and the green shoot is about two inches tall, pour off the water and start serving cocktails.

I’ve always preferred my paperwhites on the rocks anyway – pebbles that is. I line a shallow cobalt blue glass bowl that I got on a trip to Mexico with a two-inch to three-inch layer of smooth gray and white pebbles. The bulbs don’t need much room – you can plant a single bulb in a goblet or compote dish. By the way, you should buy plump heavy bulbs because bigger bulbs will send up a couple of flowering stems. I fit up to 10 bulbs in my bowl. Just remember, they like to be close together but not touching. Oh, yea, and the pointy end goes up.

Add enough water to cover the bottoms. Put the potted paperwhites in a cool, well-lit spot until the emerging shoots grow a few inches tall. Then move them to a warm, sunny location – and break open the booze.

In about a month, you too should be intoxicated – with the heady perfume of paperwhites.



Anonymous Sarah said...

That is too funny Irene -- useful information though!

12/17/2006 5:58 AM  

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