2014-12-18 / From The Garden

The Flowers and Scents of Christmas

By Cynthia Gibson

Christmas cactuses are hardy plants that can live for 20 years. Christmas cactuses are hardy plants that can live for 20 years. Holiday time brings out the best in natural decoration. Cut fresh pine, arborvitae, or fir to place on your mantel. Adding fresh greens to an arrangement is ideal because they need no water.

This is also the time to plant the stately amaryllis bulbs in light potting soil. These elegant flowers grow by the inch right in front of your eyes. The larger bulbs can produce up to five huge trumpet shaped flowers. They come in all shades of Christmas red, white, and combinations of colors. If giving this bulb or sprouted bulb as a gift, remember to include a stake and a ribbon to gently tie the stem to the stake. The flowers can grow to three feet tall.

Paperwhites are another fastgrowing bulb to force this time of year. The paperwhite is a delicate little white clump of flowers that packs a mean punch when it comes to fragrance, unlike the aroma free amaryllis. They are a narcissus and extremely easy to grow. Take a tall glass vase; in one half of the vase carefully place floral stones or marbles. Put the bulbs on top of the stones or marbles; add water, and in about three weeks flowers will begin to bloom. The gift of amaryllis or paperwhites is a gift of growing. Each day one can see inches of nature’s beauty at work. Add water as necessary; do not let these bulbs dry out. After paperwhites have bloomed, toss out the bulbs or add them to the compost pile. Amaryllis, on the other hand, can be cut to the bulb after blooming and watered for the rest of the winter. From next August to Christmas, you just might see another bloom or two.

The Christmas cactus is a durable plant, often living for 20 years. Once you own one of them, you will find it hard to part with it. They grow easily in plastic pots and don’t mind becoming pot bound, but it's best to repot after three years. They are remarkably forgiving plants that do not need much attention and like a south-facing windowsill. The Schlumbergera bridgesii variety is native to South American jungles. Whether hot pink, bright red, fuchsia, salmon, or white, they look like shrimp. They have multiple petals that surround a central stalk of color, cascading like a waterfall from their stems. Too much water will cause blossoms to drop.

Pinecones are a terrific natural addition to a wreath, Christmas tree, or garland. Store-bought pinecones often smell too strongly of cinnamon. It’s best to go out and pick up cones from the ground and let them dry on newspaper for about three days. A company named Thyme produces a wonderful fragrance called Frasier Fir. It has the perfect essence of Douglas fir and balsam. You can purchase Frasier Fir at Primavera on Bowen’s Wharf, The Beach House on West Main Road in Middletown, and at the Portsmouth Shop on East Main Road in Portsmouth. Frasier Fir comes in the form of scented candles and oils sold in a bottle. The oil can be carefully dropped (with an eyedropper) onto your unscented pinecones.

Any of these ideas will help you “Deck the Halls” in a special way.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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