Tucked away on page 51 of White Flower Farm’s Holiday 2016 catalog is a plant that is, in my humble opinion, the very best gift plant, ever. It is so pretty that when my friend Henry walked into my house a few years ago and saw it in bloom, he paid the highest compliment I have ever gotten on any plant I have ever grown. “Those are fake, right?” he asked.
As a houseplant, Christmas Rose, or Helleborus niger, is densely packed with shiny dark green leaves at its base. Above that, delicate white buds and open flowers with yellow stamens bring a little bit of woodland garden inside. I have had great success with them just by keeping them evenly watered all winter long. True, they did not look as great in April as they did in December, and some people might opt to move on to other houseplants at that point, but I think that would miss half the reason to buy this plant: In spring, you add it to your garden.
Our catalog and website state that “once spring arrives, add this exceptional perennial to your shade garden, where it will soon settle in and bloom the following year. Plants are hardy in Zones 3–8.” I figured it was worth a try, so in about April I dug a hole and added a good amount of compost and planted my slightly tired-looking houseplant. That was probably 4 or 5 years ago, and I have since added several more in the same spot. As an outdoor plant, Helleborus niger acts a bit like a groundcover with lots of twisted stems and a ton of evergreen leaves, but unlike many groundcovers, it forms a clump that does not seem to be getting much bigger (this is a good thing for me, though I couldn’t think of anything nicer than a carpet of Christmas Rose).
But here’s the best thing about my beloved Helleborus niger – it blooms. In December. In fact, it’s loaded with buds in my northwest Connecticut garden right now. It has blossomed every year that I’ve had it at this time, though I must add that some years we’ve had snow cover by this point so technically, I can’t verify that it bloomed during those winters. Any new gardener will laugh when they hear that the first few times it bloomed in December, I asked other gardeners what they thought was going on. Most of them looked at me funny and said that the plant must be “confused.” It turns out that it’s not confused – it’s supposed to do this! According to the Missouri Botanic Garden, “Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas rose, is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial which blooms around Christmas time in warm winter regions, but later (February or March) in the cold northern parts of the growing range…. Flowers sometimes bloom in the snow and bloom can survive spurts of sub-zero temperatures.”
If you’re thinking of adding one to your holiday list, here are a few tips: I planted mine close to my front door so that it’s easy to keep an eye on their pretty blooms when I am coming and going. As a houseplant, it dropped a ton of seeds in my house by the end of winter, so if you know what to do with Hellebore seeds, you could possibly grow more (I scattered them in my garden and hoped for the best – nothing happened). Another reason it’s a wonderful gift plant is that it doesn’t seem to be widely available, so it is a treat even for the person who has everything. If you are already convinced, you can order one here.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Jack Frost blanketed parts of northwest Connecticut in snow. It was a lovely kind of snowfall, with fluffy flakes swirling down gently, accumulating slowly on hillsides and tree branches. Early Monday, we stood at the window, warm cups of coffee in hand, watching the show and observing things we hadn’t been able to see in some time. All around us, the majestic shapes of trees were etched against the winter sky, their essential beauty laid bare by the absence of leafy coats. Evergreens stood like sentinels in the storm, never bowing to the gusts of wind, their dark green shapes more visible now against a white background. The tracks of deer and rabbits told tales of early morning foraging beside shrubs and, yes, our gardens. The bright red berries of our native Ilex verticillata stood out against the snow, glittering like ornaments, and inviting us to begin our celebrations of the winter holidays.
In the run-up to Thanksgiving, our thoughts always circle back to the things we’re thankful for, and in the stillness of that snowy morning, we offered up a list. It begins, as it does each year, with the most obvious and essential things: our loving families and friends, the good, honest work that keeps our hands dirty and our hearts full, and the amiable, hard-working colleagues with whom we share our days at the farm.
Equal in measure is our gratitude to you. As customers, fellow gardeners, and gardening friends, you inspire us every day. Your visits to the farm and the website, your calls and your questions keep us striving to do our best, and seeking to learn and improve so we can provide you with the best of everything there is to have and to know in the world of gardening. In the clarity of winter light, it was plain to see that it’s the sharing that counts. Whether we’re passing around plates of turkey and stuffing at our Thanksgiving table, or introducing you to new annuals and perennials, our purpose and our joy are derived in sharing what we have – and what we have learned – with others. In case we neglect to say it during busier times, we’re thankful each and every day for your interest, enthusiasm, curiosity and support.
In this year of turmoil and strife on the national level, we’re especially grateful for the steadying force of nature, which tells us that seasons change, and storms come and go, but essential structures, like the big trees on the farm, will almost always stand fast and hold steady at least until their time has come.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving, we hope you have the time to count your blessings, and to find pleasure, purpose and peace in thecompany of those you hold dear.
When it comes to shopping for gardeners, the good news is most of us always need something. It could be a few new plants for the border, heirloom tomatoes for the vegetable garden, or perhaps some new shoes or boots to muck around in. If you’re not exactly certain what the gardener on your list is pining for, you will always succeed wildly with a White Flower Farm Gift Certificate. These certificates invite recipients to choose whatever they’d like from our broad array of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines, tools, pottery, and gifts. They also welcome recipients to ask questions of our friendly staff members, who are always delighted to help gardeners of all skill levels – from the most experienced to those who are just beginning to get their hands dirty.
If you’d like to see more gift ideas, scroll below. Whether you’re looking for a special present, a few stocking stuffers, or something in between, we’ve got a sleigh-full of great ideas for the gardener and non-gardener on your list.
At the risk of repeating what we have often said in catalogs and emails, there’s a reason Amaryllis bulbs are our No. 1 bestselling gift item year after year. All of our bulbs are top quality and guaranteed to produce 2 stems, most with a minimum of 4 blossoms each. In the middle of February, when the landscape in many parts of the country is a colorless expanse of white and gray, these easy care flowers come to the rescue, bursting forth with beautiful, colorful blooms. They are a great for gift for just about anyone on your list. No green thumb required.
The all-time favorite bulb for forcing indoors is the Paperwhite Narcissus. Large clusters of pure white flowers arch above graceful, blue-green foliage, and the sweet, heady perfume fills a room with fragrance. Paperwhites require no preparation and are absolutely foolproof. A bag of bulbs is a great stocking stuffer or hostess gift. We always keep a few bags around for unexpected visitors and spontaneous holiday gatherings.
Every gardener deserves this hardworking, durable, beautifully crafted tool. We’re certain of it because we could not maintain our gardens at the nursery without it. The stainless steel fork topped by an Ash wood “D” handle is indispensable for digging up Hostas and Daylilies, loosening compacted soil, opening holes for new plantings, and turning the soil before planting bulbs, annuals and perennials. Built to last a lifetime, it’s a special gift that will be handed down to the next generation of gardeners. Overall length: 41″.
Give a roll of these wonderfully fragrant sachets to one lucky recipient, or cut them apart to make stocking stuffers for several people on your list. The lilac-colored organza fabric contains fresh heads of lavender, which not only smell heavenly, they discourage moths from invading bureau drawers and closets. We send a roll of eight 6” x 4” sachets wrapped with a butterfly ribbon. Hang them together in your closet, or cut them apart to tuck in drawers or stockings.
The superb quality of this professional grade watering can is evident in its heft and perfect balance. Made of heavy-gauge steel, it has a galvanized coating that resists rust and increases durability. Its classic English silhouette comes from the two-handled design and the long-reach spout that creates constant water pressure. The solid brass, oval rose can be attached to deliver a fine spray that won’t wash away new plantings. A filter is included to prevent dirt and debris from passing through the spout and into the rose. This superior watering can holds approximately 1 gallon. Made with exceptional craftsmanship that’s designed to last a minimum of 20 years. (Also available in gray metal 2.3 gal size for $169, or in 1½ gallon size recyclable plastic for $49.)
Every gardener and cook on your list will delight in this trio of culinary herbs, which are great for adding fresh flavor and aroma to soups, stews, casseroles and omelets all winter long. Golden Sage, Rosemary, and English Thyme are as decorative as they are delicious. Enjoy cooking with them yourself, or give as a gift.
This beautifully crafted, naturally weather resistant tuteur creates a dramatic focal point in any garden whether it’s smothered in Clematis, Sweet Pea, or Morning Glory blossoms, or standing alone and unadorned in a mixed border. It assembles easily with a Phillips screwdriver. The rot-resistant Western Red Cedar will weather naturally to a light silver gray. Measures 81″ tall, 2′ square at the base.
When only a “big” present will do, the gardener in your life will thrill to this heirloom quality hand-crafted terra-cotta pot from renowned importers Seibert & Rice. As much a work of art as it is a planter, the ornamental motifs on this exquisite vessel were formed using original molds from 19th century master craftsmen. Each pot is created freehand and signed by the highly skilled artisan who makes it. Pots can winter over in cold-climate gardens provided they are set on feet. (See full description of feet here — We recommend the use of 3 to support this pot.) Measures approximately 16″ wide x 11″ high, and has 1 drainage hole.
All of us at the farm have our preferred footwear for gardening and mucking around outdoors in all types of weather. From affordable Sloggers and Crocs to more costly Birkenstocks, Boggs, Hunter boots, Muck boots, sneakers, and hiking boots, every gardener needs durable, supportive, weather-proof footwear. Visit your favorite shoe store or e-tailer and choose something just right for your gardener.
Give a gift that supports a special place. Your recipient will enjoy the privileges of membership at a lovely garden, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting the work that goes on there – whether it’s maintaining existing plantings, educating the next generation of gardeners, or conducting horticultural research. Tops on our list in our neck of the woods are Longwood Garden in Kennett Square, PA, the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY, and Tower Hill in Boylston, MA.
Hire a helper for your favorite gardener, someone who’s a dab hand at mulching, pruning, planting, and tending a garden. You not only give someone you love a helping hand, you support an individual who might make or wish to make his or her living as what we call a “greenie.”
A Garden Shed
If your budget has a fair amount of elastic in it, consider building or buying a shed for your favorite gardener. Whatever the size, a shed is a terrific place to store pots, tools, and other supplies essential to gardening. Larger models might include windows and a potting table. Employ a local carpenter to build a custom shed, or choose from any number of prefabricated styles available from a wide variety of retailers and e-tailers.
A Subscription to a Gardening Magazine
Give a gift that goes on all year! Good gardening magazines provide year-round inspiration and information. Some of our favorites include Gardens Illustrated, Garden Design, Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Better Homes & Gardens, and Country Gardens.
Straight from orchards in Florida, our juicy, ripe Citrus makes a delicious gift for anyone on your list. The fruit is ripened on the tree before being harvested and shipped directly to you or your lucky recipients. We promise you can taste the difference. Our 10-pound sampler includes an average of 4 Ruby Red Grapefruits and 10–12 Oranges. A 20-lb box includes an average of 8 Grapefruits and 20-24 Oranges. To send three 10-pound samplers to 3 addresses for $135, standard shipping included, click here.
Choosing which Amaryllis varieties to order for yourself or as gifts can be a challenge. This is especially true if you’re selecting from among the 84 varieties we’re offering this season. When choosing, some of us instinctively select by color – red, pink, white, or bicolor. Others by form – Single, Double, Nymph, Cybister, or Small-Flowering. If you’re looking for more help in narrowing your choices, read below. We asked 12 staff members to choose one favorite Amaryllis variety and to tell us why it’s their top choice. Their remarks might steer you to some surprises. (The photos of these glorious flowers probably won’t hurt either.)
‘I’d have to pick ‘Spartacus’ for it’s large blooms and bold color and pattern. The red and white provide a wonderful contrast, while not overpowering each other. Plus when the sun hits it just right the petals produce an iridescent shine you can get lost in.’
Amaryllis ‘Tres Chic’
‘I love this amaryllis because although it has smaller blooms it makes up for it by knocking my socks off with tons of long lasting flowers. I usually get three to four flower stalks per bulb with 4-6 blooms per stalk. The blooms are gorgeous, the green throat and the contrast between the white centers and the beautiful red outer edge is just classically beautiful. If I could pick just one to grow every year (which I never do), this would be it!’
Amaryllis ‘Purple Rain’
‘One of my favorite varieties is ‘Purple Rain.’ The large, exotic bi-colored blooms are so striking you have to get close to see if they are real. The closeup reveals intricate veining and a gorgeous sheen to the flower. (And it’s the perfect year to honor Prince!)’
‘I like ‘Picotee’ – it has a very delicate flower, neutral palette, and it strikes me as funny/fascinating that there’s genetic coding for the edging color, which seems like pure ornament . . .’
‘My fave is ‘Lagoon.’ Years ago we had ‘Vera,’ almost the same, a gorgeous rich pink. No star in the middle. I love it after the holidays because it is not red or white. It goes with green so well, and we have lots of shades of green in our house. When I force paperwhites, they look beautiful together. And the blue hyacinth as well.’
Amaryllis ‘Double Delicious’
‘I love the bright red pop of color, the sculptural flowers, and the large size of the double blooms! Every time I see it, it brightens my day, and lights up my office!’
‘My fave is Benfica because that rich, deep red has bloomed in my house through the beginning of February so it’s like love is exploding on my mantle on Valentine’s Day.’
[Two staff members picked this one!]
‘As a gift or for myself, the white blooms go with any décor, and they are uniformly enormous and showy. They really do prompt people who receive them to thank me twice – once when they get it, and once again when it blooms. Last year, I got a hand-written note about one . . .’
‘Incredibly prolific, lots of stems holding lots of blooms, the blooms seem to just keep coming!’
‘The ‘Aphrodite’ Amaryllis is my favorite for its beautiful coloring and ruffled edges. It is a true feminine beauty that will draw you in, and the name speaks for itself!’
Amaryllis ‘Flamenco Queen’
‘Best one I remember from last year’s trials was ‘Flamenco Queen.’ What struck me was the dark red color with white overtones on top of each flower with the lighter reddish white bottom. The lighter color on bottom most of the time had a red edge to the flower petal, not only very striking visually, but also the lighter bottom was very consistent in all the flowers.’
Amaryllis ‘Terra Mystica’
‘In trials last year, this one stood out from all the others. A small-flowering variety, it produces a remarkable number of blooms in a warm terra-cotta color. Each petal is neatly edged in white as if a very fine tailor had seen to every last detail.’
For starters, “forcing” is a misnomer because it sounds too much like work. We’re just tricking the bulbs into thinking winter is over quite a bit sooner than it is. Forcing is an easy sleight of hand that offers the soul-restoring scents and colors of spring at a time of year when spirits sorely need reviving. But you need to plant now, in autumn, to enjoy the results when the snow flies! Although we usually think of forcing Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips, many of the smaller bulbs are also extremely easy and gratifying to force: Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla, Dwarf Irises, and Anemones also will give great results.
Forced bulbs can be divided into two groups: those that require a chilling period and those that don’t. When bulbs do need chilling, what they actually require is many weeks less than typical northern winters. (See the list at the end of this post for details.)
In a nutshell, here’s what you do . . .
Force Bulbs That Need Chilling
Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool but not freezing dark spot for the required minimum time (see below), then bring them into warmth and light in the house. The bulbs think spring has arrived and quickly sprout and flower. It’s that easy — the bulbs do most of the work.
This is a great project to do with young children, if you want to invite the kids or grandkids to participate. The actual planting is a little messy, so it’s a good idea to spread some newspapers to catch any spilled soil, gather all your pots in one spot, and do all the planting at one time.
Containers and Potting Mix
You can use any pot you like to hold bulbs you want to force, as long as it allows room for root growth — about 3-4” of space below the bulbs. This is a great opportunity to showcase flea market finds and tag sale treasures, or your favorite terra cotta pots. If you choose a pot without a drainage hole in the bottom, you’ll have to water your bulbs carefully, because bulbs that sit in soggy potting mix soon will rot. Consider using a ceramic or terra cotta pot if you’re forcing tall Daffodils or Tulips. These flowers can be top-heavy when in full bloom and may topple if grown in lightweight plastic pots.
We recommend that you plant bulbs in a soilless potting mix (available at garden centers and hardware stores). A soilless mix holds moisture but allows excess water to drain away readily.
Potting the Bulbs
To pot the bulbs, begin by placing potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. This is an ideal job for a very young assistant, if you’d like to invite a child or grandchild to join the fun. Add the moistened mix to the container until the pot is about three-quarters full. Set the bulbs root-side down on top of the mix (or on their sides if you can’t tell which end is up, as with Anemone blanda). Space the bulbs much more closely than you would in the garden – they should almost touch. Then add more mix. Cover small bulbs completely with a ½” layer of mix; cover larger bulbs up to their necks, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water thoroughly after potting.
Chilling the Bulbs
To force cold-hardy bulbs into bloom, you must first encourage them to produce new roots by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time that varies by type of bulb (see listing below). The ideal rooting temperature also varies, but most bulbs flower best if stored at 40-60°F for the first 3-4 weeks after potting, then at 32-40° for the balance of the cooling period – a shift that mimics the drop in soil temperature outdoors as fall turns to winter.
The easiest way to chill bulbs is to put them outdoors and let nature do the rest. To insulate the bulbs from rapid changes in air temperature and from freezing cold, bury the pots in a pile of dry leaves held in place by a plastic tarp or in a pile of mulch, such as bark or wood chip, and cover the pile to prevent formation of a frozen crust. You also can chill bulbs in a cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one; a cold basement; or an unheated garage (provided the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing). If you choose to chill bulbs in the refrigerator, be certain there is no fresh fruit stored inside. Fruit releases ethylene gas as a natural part of its natural ripening process, and the ethylene will interfere with flower development. In locations other than a refrigerator, it may be difficult to arrange for the ideal shift in temperature described above. Fortunately, most bulbs haven’t read the manuals, and they will root beautifully if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40°F during the rooting time. Professional growers fill huge walk-in coolers with potted bulbs and control the temperatures precisely. Using an old refrigerator in a basement can deliver great results without ever touching the temperature controls.
The possible downside to outside storage has four little legs. If mice or other rodents have access to your bulbs, they will devour all but the varieties that are poisonous or distasteful to them (such as Narcissus, more commonly known as Daffodils). Protect potted bulbs with steel mesh, such as hardware cloth.
Please note that moisture is as important as temperature in the successful chilling of bulbs. Check the potting mix in the pots every few weeks and water thoroughly when the surface is dry to the touch.
Toward the end of the recommended rooting time, begin checking the pots for signs that the bulbs have rooted. If you see fleshy white roots poking through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots, the bulbs are usually ready to bloom. If you don’t see roots, give the bulbs more time in cold storage. Don’t judge readiness by the appearance of shoots from the tops of the bulbs; without roots, the bulbs won’t flower properly.
Once the bulbs have rooted, you don’t have to bring them out of the cold immediately. Most will tolerate extra chilling time, allowing you to orchestrate a succession of winter bloom.
Bringing the Bulbs into Bloom
When the bulbs have rooted, bring the pots out of cold storage and set them in a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperature stays below 65°F). Bright light will help keep the leaves and flower stems compact; in weak light, they tend to flop. You’re likely to find that the bulbs have produced white shoots during cold storage. Sunlight quickly turns them green.
Keep a close eye on the moisture needs of the bulbs as they send up leaves and flower stems. Initially, the bulbs probably won’t need to be watered more frequently than once a week (if that much), but by the time they bloom, you may need to water them every day or two.
Most bulbs will bloom 2-5 weeks after they come out of the cold, heralding spring with their bright colors and sweet fragrances. Duration of bloom varies with the type of bulb and the variety but is generally shorter than you’d expect of bulbs in the garden. Warm temperatures and low humidity indoors speed the decline of the flowers. Shifting the pots out of direct sunlight and moving them to a cool room at night helps prolong bloom.
When the blooms fade, we usually recommend that you toss the bulbs on the compost pile. If you keep them in a sunny window and continue to water them, forced bulbs can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years. Tulips rarely bloom again, but Daffodils, Crocus, and Grape Hyacinth are more likely to be worth the effort of planting.
Forcing Hyacinths Without Soil
Hyacinths can be forced in pebbles and water, or in glass jars. They still require a cool rooting period if forced this way. Special forcing glasses, in use since Victorian days, are shaped like an hourglass and keep the bottom of the bulb dry—only the bulb’s roots reach down into the water. If you are using pebbles in another type of container, place a 2-3” layer of pebbles, such as pea stone, marble chips, or river rocks, in the bottom of the bowl or pot. Set the bulbs on top of the pebbles then fill with more pebbles, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulbs exposed. Add enough water to create a reservoir for the roots, but be sure the bases of the bulbs stay above water level. If they sit in water, the bulbs will rot. Then place the container in a dark, cool area (40-50°F) for 4-8 weeks. Check the water level occasionally and add more water as necessary, keeping the water level below the bottom of the bulb. When roots have developed and leaves begin to grow, it’s time to move the bulb into a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperatures stay below 65°F). Bulbs forced in water can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years – if ever.
Recommended Cooling Period
Professionals often recommend very lengthy cold periods, but we’ve had good results at home using the minimums listed here. Remember that bulbs can keep chilling for longer than the minimum. Please note that Tulips do require the longest period to flower successfully.
Recommended Rooting Times for Cold-Hardy Bulbs
Anemone (Windflower), 8-10 weeks
Chionodoxa (Glories of the Snow), 10-12 weeks
Crocus (Spring-blooming Crocus), 8-10 weeks
Galanthus (Snowdrops), 10-12 weeks
Hyacinthus (Hyacinth), 12-14 weeks
Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata and other spring-blooming bulbous species), 10-12 weeks
Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), 8-10 weeks
Muscari (Grape Hyacinth, to keep the leaves shorter, store cool and dry for 6-8 weeks, then give 2 weeks of cool rooting time)