Not all paperwhites stink

Yesterday, as I finished up a piece for Fiskars on forced bulbs (bulbs coaxed to bloom indoors during winter) Non-Gardening Best Friend, Aimee, called. Because I was working on an article, we talked of amaryllis, paperwhites and hyacinths. I asked her if I planted an amaryllis for her, would she want it? I am always trying to spread the love of gardening around, and amaryllis are super easy. In her answer, she said something very revealing.

Paperwhites, probably 'Ziva' before I knew better.
Paperwhites, probably ‘Ziva’ before I knew better.

First, she said yes, and then asked, “Do they stink?”

I told her No, most don’t have any scent.

“I don’t want any more paperwhites,” she said, “I grew those once. They stunk.”

“Not all paperwhites stink,” I said, and it sparked a great discussion about Narcissus ssp papyraceus ‘Ziva,’ otherwise known as “Her Stinkiness” and her cousins. ‘Ziva’ is the most common paperwhite daffodil sold in commerce, but it’s not the only one. There are much sweeter smelling varieties like ‘Geranium,’ ‘Inbal,’ ‘Erlicheer‘ and others worth growing. ‘Cheerfulness’ is grand, as is the traditional Chinese sacred lily, with its golden cup, that I grow outside and have also forced.

You don’t need to limit yourself to paperwhites either. Other narcissus, especially the smaller ones used in rock gardens, don’t mind forcing. N. cyclamineus ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Jetfire’ can also be grown indoors. You can buy precooled ‘Jetfire’ bulbs from Brent and Becky’s right now, but they will ship after Christmas.

Narcissus Chinese sacred lily and 'Cheerfulness' (yellow strain) planted outside.
Narcissus Chinese sacred lily and ‘Cheerfulness’ (yellow strain) planted outside.

So, it begs the question . . . why don’t we buy other subspecies of paperwhites and other daffodils? Why do we keep springing for stinky ‘Ziva?’ Because, it’s nearly the only one found in every gift pot, on every shelf at box stores and in many nurseries. Where can we find the lovelier paperwhites?

Online at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Old House Gardens, Van Engelen (although you have to look a bit harder), among others. In fact, Old House Gardens has an entire webpage on forcing. Most online retailers are sold out of fall-planted bulbs, but I found a few at American Meadows yesterday. You can still plant paperwhites and amaryllis and enjoy them during winter because neither need chilling. That’s a happy thought isn’t it?

Narcissus 'Jetfire' in a lot of sun. It can be grown indoors too.
Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ in a lot of sun. It can be grown indoors too.

For gardeners, winter is a very long season, and as NGBF, Aimee, says, “Don’t be afraid to spring for the good bulbs. Life is short. Quit buying the cheap stuff from the shelves.”

In other words, friends don’t let friends buy ‘Ziva.’