We're at a seasonal turning point in flower bulb culture: too late for all but the hardiest gardeners to plant tulips and daffodils outdoors for a spring show, but just in time to warm up and get underway forcing amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus into bloom.
Bulbs for a spring show
Something to be thankful for this time of year is that most local garden shops have marked down spring blooming bulbs with end-of-season discounts. Although we've had a cold snap this week, the ground temperatures are still above freezing. With a few days of 50 degree weather, you can still comfortably get bulbs settled into the soil and established. Check out the National Weather Service website for regional soil and air temperatures.
A couple hints for success: Squeeze and sniff bulb packages before buying, to be sure they are firm and smell fresh. And, squirrels tend to leave unpalatable daffodil bulbs alone more than tasty tulips, but there's no guarantee this frisky rodent won't toss around freshly dug earth out of curiosity. Instead of planting individual bulbs, burying pots stocked with bulbs and then wrapping them in chicken wire helps deter the digging. Plant in well-drained soil and follow package directions for depth.
Beautiful indoor blossoms
Whether you order specialty bulbs or go local, amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs make great holiday gifts for yourself and garden friends. You can often find these wintertime favorites pre-planted in attractive pots, and beginning to sprout. Tall and showy amaryllis, many in red and white patterns, are striking. Paperwhites form a cluster of fragrant white flowers in low, wide planters. They usually flower 7-10 weeks after planting.
Some hints for success: Plant bulbs about two-thirds deep into light soil mix. Amaryllis tends to be tall and top-heavy, so plant in a container with a weighted base. Daffodils do well grouped over small pebbles.
Put bulbs in a bright window, and water lightly until foliage appears, then moderately as needed.
To avoid stems growing too tall and falling over, check out "Pickling Your Paperwhites" research from Cornell University on using alcohol to encourage shorter stalks.
A couple specialty mail-order growers include Easy-to-Grow-Bulbs ( Easytogrowbulbs.com) which offers a broad selection; the big and bold hybrid amaryllis Ruby Star, and the pristine white Picotee, edged in deep red, are stunning. The new Wintersun paperwhites have a cheery yellow center cup.
White Flower Farm ( Whiteflowerfarm.com) carries a wide selection of winter-blooming holiday gift ideas, including over 65 varieties of amaryllis. Also check out the new Kalahari Snapshot, a desktop panorama of two desert succulents in a planter frame.
Play with your food
As you're getting ready for this year's Thanksgiving feast, take a close look at the graphic patterns found in vegetables, fruit and spices. With a bit of acrylic paint, you can create prints using cross sections of apples, mushrooms, broccoli, apples, sweet peppers, star fruit, carrots, and okra, as well as a cross-cut near the root-end of romaine lettuce and celery bunches.
Cinnamon stick ends and dried star anise spice, found at Asian groceries, also make good printing subjects. You can print on all sorts of paper, from repurposed grocery bags to fancy new art paper for table place cards and holiday gift bags.
This project will keep vacationing kids occupied and the possibilities for the art you'll create are limited only by your imagination.
The Wreath Recipe Book: Year-Round Wreaths, Swags, and Other Decorations to Make with Seasonal Branches. Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo. Artisan Books, 272 pp $24.95
The flaming red and gold leaves of liquid ambar in the cover illustration wreath are attention grabbers. Studded with rose hips and small asters, the cover wreath is simply brilliant. Harampolis and Rizzo, partners in the San Francisco flower shop Studio Choo, have a fresh design style that is spare yet elegant.
Flipping through the book you travel through four floral seasons. In spring, a whip of white dogwood blossoms looped to hold moss and tiny woodland mushrooms at its base; in summer the movement of feathers suspended by thin wires from huckleberry branches; fall showcases a yellow and orange mandala of chrysanthemum and marigold; and in winter two rustic juniper branches lie prone on a table, draped with exotic cymbidium orchids and air plants.
Photographs of individual elements in each arrangement are shown first, then combined into various compositions: napkin holders, swags and centerpieces. From thread-wrapped branches in an assortment of bright colors, to twigs woven into loose tapestry frames, the innovative ideas and clear-cut how-to instruction brings a new definition to charm for all-season décor.
Local wreath-making workshops
It's getting to be the season to deck your halls with greenery so sign up now for local wreath-making workshops, most of which fill up quickly and require reservations.
■ At Springhouse Gardens, 185 West Catnip Hill Road, Nicholasville, various sessions are scheduled from Dec. 2 through 13. Check out the schedule at Springhousegardens.com or call (859) 224-1417.
■ Michler's Florist, Greenhouses and Garden Design, 417 East Maxwell St., is having a wreath-making workshop from 5-7 p.m. Dec. 4. This workshop with John Michler includes all supplies, mixed greens, and a bow for $60. Call (859) 254-0383 or visit Michlers.com.
■ The Arboretum, 500 Alumni Drive., is offering a workshop from 10 a.m. to noon on Dec. 5 with horticulturist Jesse Dahl to create wreaths, swags and garlands that decorate the Arboretum during the winter. You can also make a wreath to take home. Cost is $20 for the public or $18 for Friends of the Arboretum. Call: (859) 257-6955.
■ At Wilson Nurseries, 3690 East-West Connector Route 676, Frankfort, the wreath-making workshop will include fresh Fraser fir and other cut greenery, as well as ribbon and adornments. The class is from 2-3 p.m. December 5-7. Cost is $35. Visit Wilsonnurseriesky.com or call (502) 223-1488.