Garden Variety

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Why a range of bulb plants may just become your go-to gift

WHEN IT COMES to homemade holiday gifts, cookies and ornaments certainly have their charms. But what if the recipient is trying to watch their waistline? And what if that hand-glittered ornament simply doesn’t vibe with their minimalist decor? Enter the bulb plant, a humble-looking thing that with a touch of TLC blooms (literally) into a fragrant, eye-catching focal point.

“Bulb plants make a great gift during the holidays,” says Michael J. Skaff, owner of Savannah Interior Plant Designs, LLC. Skaff, whose floral design expertise includes designing three presidential inaugurations and the Academy Awards, notes that bulbs — which are technically spring bulbs forced to bloom in winter — offer a way to bring a touch of color and fragrance to the somewhat dreary winter months. “Giving a living plant, and being able to watch the progress of growth and blooming, is so rewarding,” Skaff says. Plus, the benefits go beyond color and fragrance: “Plants in general are mood boosters, and many help clean the air of harmful bacteria and increase oxygen levels.”


Although people tend to look to the big, bold blooms of the Amaryllis at the holidays, or even deep, jewel-toned tulips, Skaff prefers grape hyacinth and certain Narcissus bulbs, such as paperwhites or daffodils, for gifting. Grape hyacinth are most commonly blue and have a mildly sweet fragrance. According to the ASPCA, they’re also safe for cats and dogs (some giftable flowers, like lilies, are highly toxic to pets if ingested). Paperwhites offer charming clusters of blooms, although they are best kept away from curious cats.

“Paperwhites have a beautiful fragrance and are easy to maintain, but consider the hyacinth plant as a wonderful alternative,” Skaff says. “Their tiny, bell-shaped florets exude an enchanting, sweet scent.” 

“Bulb plants make a great gift during the holidays. Giving a living plant, and being able to watch the progress of growth and blooming, is so rewarding.” — Michael J. Skaff

Skaff’s top pick is a mini daffodil ideal for pots and bedding. It’s the most popular daffodil variety grown in Holland, he says, and it boasts pale, golden petals that bring warmth and cheerful color. Plus, they’re low-maintenance, meaning you can gift to a gardener and a novice alike.

Bulbs and supplies are available now at local nurseries and garden centers, such as Hester & Zipperer, Savannah Secret Gardens, Herb Creek Landscape Supply and Elmgren’s Garden Center in Richmond Hill. However, if you’re looking for a particular hybrid, such as a striped or multi-petal variety, you may prefer to purchase direct-to-consumer bulb planters (some of these even come pre-potted, so they’re immediately ready for gifting).

No matter which route you choose, do your homework to ensure they’ll actually bloom: “All bulb plants have a different life cycle from bulb to bloom,” Skaff says, “so I suggest investigating the variety.”

You’ve got the bulbs. Now, on to the fun part. “The pot is an important element when gifting,” Skaff says. “If you know the recipient’s home decor, select a container that works well in their space. Once the bulb fades, they can reuse the container for alternate purposes, such as a pen or pencil holder.”

Kids can paint terracotta pots for a heartfelt, homemade feel, or you can leave them plain: even the simplest terracotta pot looks inviting with a special, sparkling ribbon. “Personally, I like placing bulbs in clear glass containers and adding interesting mosses, branches and pinecones for a more natural look,” Skaff says. You can also forgo potting altogether and choose a bulb vase, watching the roots expand in water.

Finally, some gentle instructions for the plant’s recipient may be helpful to share — and help ensure each bulb blooms as intended. Indirect, bright light is always best for indoor, potted bulbs. Keep them away from heat vents or blowers, and maintain moisture at all times. When potting, use a good houseplant soil mixture that has perlite, which helps with root aeration. “Once the bulb is formed and ready to bloom,” Skaff says, “I recommend a weak solution of water-soluble fertilizer.” If you’ve chosen to present the bulb in a bulb vase, let the recipient know to change the water frequently to prevent bacteria from building up.