Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Christmas Paper Whites

There are plenty of last-minute Christmas decorations you can buy, but you have to plan ahead if you want to force paperwhites, also known as white narcissus.  And if you are like me and some of my family and friends, you are ready for the first round of flowers in early November, and continue on through January or so.  I can’t get enough of this beautiful and fragrant little flower, and I love to watch them grow and bloom.  Each year I buy more bulbs, and each year my repeat clients want more of them in their homes.  This year I am forcing several hundred bulbs, for the first round.  And today was the first day I set them up.  So here are a few ideas, I hope you will find a little inspiration.


I bought my bulbs locally this year.  There is another variety I will try in a week or two, but Ziva is the white flower standard and that’s what these bulbs are.  Look for the biggest bulbs, free of rot.  I like to buy the ones that just can’t wait to sprout.  Sometimes there will be a dud, but these are really no-fail bulbs.


The question for me each year is what kinds of containers to use.  I usually have a theme, and last year I used footed glass bowls, hotel silver, giant clam shells and white porcelain and ironstone (see some pics HERE).  This year, my first thought was for French aluminium Champagne buckets.  I have a photo somewhere of Jean-Luc’s shop with hundreds of these buckets, stacked to the ceiling, though I can’t find it right now…but I’ll keep looking so I can show you.  This is the perfect thing to pick up at the Emmaus shop in Beaune for a Euro, so I am always looking for them at the right price.  I chose two from my collection in Laguna for this year.  I’ll use these to style the info booth at the Sunday market, and at home on a large silver drinks tray.  They aren’t particularly elegant, no foot or beautiful detail, but they are graphic with the lettering, and they are French.  They’ll work just fine…

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I’m setting aside a number of glass pieces to use, and a lot of these low cylindrical vases~


later this week I’ll do all the white porcelain and ironstone again, including the soupiere I bought in Paris in the spring.  This will stay home with me, and I’m sure it will be my favorite~


Silver tone containers work well, and I pulled some pieces from the basement including this large pewter-tone oval;


And baskets; lots of baskets; they work so well with paperwhites; I can see this one with tons of blooming bulbs in it set next to a front door~


Throughout the year, my neighbors periodically set out small terra cotta pots with their trash.  I always take them home, because they will hold 1-3 bulbs each and with the addition of a ribbon, they make a great little item to sell.  A group of ten will make a nice display at the market~


A few weeks ago I also found this large pot while out walking the dogs.  Why would anyone throw this out? No idea, but it’s vintage slipped pottery and will be beautiful with the bulbs and tied with a red ribbon.


These cylindrical pots are interesting, and textured.  Look for any kind of interesting containers you have around the house.


Shells make awesome paperwhite containers; I use these giant clam shells each year.  A French friend has already asked if he can have them again in his house this year, so I’ll loan them out to him again.  Even a small shell that holds one bulb can be an interesting display, so again, see what you have sitting around that you can use. 


The bulbs are loaded with energy and ready to bloom, so you don’t need to worry too much about what you plant them in.  Many people like to use stones or gravel, but I use a mix of potting soil, compost and leaves.  I figure this gives the roots something to hold onto.


A little sprinkle of better soil goes on top; let the crown of the bulb sit up above the soil so the bulb sticks out on top.


For the buckets, I used a plastic bag so that I keep the interior dry. Not sure if the water would bother these, but just to be safe, I’m lining them.


Each bucket held three bulbs, and I then tucked the plastic back down.  These will all be covered with moss on top, so you won’t see the plastic of the bag when they are displayed.


The other great item I’m using this year are a few old French tart pans.  This one is particularly good as it’s about three inches tall and has a nice patina.  Call it what you like, French Thrift or Depression Mentality, I hate to throw anything away; I’ve had this tin for decades and it is no longer suitable for baking, but I’ve kept it in the basement and it will make a great display at the market.  If you are looking for something similar, check out the zinc trays at Greige HERE.  Flat containers like this work really well because they keep the overall height of the flowers from being too tall.  I can see the zinc trays full of bulbs and topped with a little moss sitting as a table centerpiece or on a sideboard. 


The baskets I’m using will all get lined with plastic.  Roll the top of the bag over the edge of the basket and fill with your soil and leaves.


When you are finished, tuck the plastic in a little.  Remember there will be moss on top, so don’t worry that a little plastic shows now.


For the shells, I use just a little soil so that the roots have something to hold on to; the roots will raise the bulbs up just a little, but the flowers will always grow straight up towards the light.  This will be topped with moss when it’s delivered.


You’ll have to pay close attention to how you water each of these;  not too much if you’re using a plastic-lined container.  But one thing I swear by is to water these new bulbs with rainwater from the barrel or else water from the pond.  We have so much chlorine and other additives to our water, I find the bulbs do really well with pure water.  I’d use filtered water if I didn’t have a little rain or the pond.


All of the outside containers then got some water.


The tart tins all got a good water; the bulbs have wet feet today, but by tomorrow these will be dry.


Next I went inside to look for more containers.  For my French friend again, I chose white Limoges soup bowls.  These will be pretty set around his house in pairs.  Tea cups also work wonderfully; I am using a few Real Old willow pieces and the gold tea cup given to me by my Grandmother who recently passed.  She gave me all her teacups a few years ago when she downsized her house, and so this will be my special sentimental piece for the holidays~


I will be thinking of her as I watch this teacup bloom~


One by one as the pieces were set up, they were put out in the hot sun.  A little rainwater and hot sun will get these bulbs going right away.  A few curious noses were there to check it out~


And lastly, I completed all of the cylindrical glass vases.  You see soil and gravel most often in these vases with paperwhites, but I put my Paris hat on when I look at these.  No Parisian wants to see dirt and stones with their flowers on the table.  Go elegant, go French, and line the vases with sheets of moss.  It’s much easier than it sounds, trust me.  Then add soil in the center.


Set the bulbs on top and water carefully.  Here is the smallest of these, holding three bulbs~


And one of the larger ones here; these will go to my French friend, and when you see the vases from the side, you will only see moss; the roots will usually stay in the center.  It’s green and alive, but pretty.  It will be perfect sitting on a lacquered black piece of furniture with the green moss and white flowers.  I’ll put a very large shallow one of these on his coffee table.  Be sure to save some moss to cover the dirt on top.  For now, these also went out into the sunshine.


I’ll have another round of planting later this week that I’ll show you.  Paperwhite bulbs are a great deal at about $1 per bulb; I hope you will plant a few in some great container you have.  But do it soon, so that you have time to enjoy them through the holiday season!


  1. Andrea I wish I were there to be your assistant with all of the beautiful Paperwhites and the unique and varied containers! I am so excited to see them bloom!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing all your wonderful ways of potting up Paperwhite bulbs. You have given me so much inspiration to search amongst all my stuff that my Mr France calls junk, for different ways to plant my Paperwhites. Last year I took advice from the guy at my local market here in rural France to plant them in a low container in gravel, not a great success. they all grew so tall & when in flower fell over. I'll be using your method this next week when I plan to plant them.

    1. Barbara, you are so right, they can get leggy and fall over if they don't have something to hold on to. I understand the latest advice to keep them from getting too leggy is to add a little alcohol to the water after they have started. You can google that tip; I haven't tried it yet. Yes, it's not junk, it can be used for paperwhites!

  3. Hi Andrea, I love them too! I just planted my first round last weekend... I already have seen a few begin to sprout up! THe ones I have in the big wine barrels are growing and hope they bloom in November not Oct!!! I do love paper whites! Have fun, yours will be gorgeous!

  4. Thank you for sharing your creative tips ... can't wait to see them in bloom!!!

  5. Great ideas......your home is going to be smelling amazing in a few weeks! I LOVE paperwhites, they are so elegant and fragrant and festive!

  6. Omg, I have missed you.
    Your posts are my very favorite!
    I will be buying bulbs tomorrow.
    You are so inspirational!!!!