A friend gave me some Paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus papyraceus for you botanical types) for Christmas. For those who might be unfamiliar, you force the bulbs in a pot indoors with the idea that they will bloom in the winter and provide you with some uplifting greenery – a harbinger of spring to carry you over the long, cold months. They are like having a little piece of sun in your house – delicate white daffodil faces that are very fragrant. Mine grew quickly and are emitting a very distinct Paperwhite scent. I have noticed it seems to get even stronger in the evening. I could actually detect Narcissus wafting through the forced hot air vents and re-circulating from downstairs up into my bedroom last night.
You have to be very careful not to overdo it with the Narcissus. My ex-fiancé (the EF) was an avid gardener, and in his typical exuberance tended to overindulge in the Paperwhite ritual. He would plant at least twenty bulbs in a number of pots lined up on the living room windowsills. When the flowers opened, the aroma would be so intense that it would induce a headache and cause family members to complain and guests to politely inquire. After that experience, I have been very conservative regarding their use.
This gift of Narcissus consisted of seven bulbs and was part of a lovely goody bag containing some excellent dark chocolate in the shape of a Buddha, a wooden fan from Spain (for the unexpected hot flash) and some dense, very addictive homemade layered spice cake. I thought it was a really nice present. I think that seven bulbs are just about the right amount, at least for this space. They are planted all in one large pot and their fragrance has managed to drift through the house without over-doing it. I can’t quite come up with a word to describe what they smell like, although they are distinct. A very good friend who came to visit the other night mentioned that the Paperwhites smelled like paste to her. At least I think that is what she said. My hearing is not all that great and at first I thought she said they smelled like “piss”, which, of course, is always a possibility. When I said “What?” she repeated, “I think they smell like paste”. But she could actually have said “piss” again, I don’t know. Because we are pretty straightforward with each other, she could have said either thing. She is the kind of friend who will let you know if you have spinach left in your teeth after the meal, which is a very helpful trait to have in a friend. If she thought the Paperwhites smelled like piss, I don’t think she would have any qualms about letting me know. At the time we moved on to other subjects, but I will have to ask her yet again. To me, they don’t smell like either piss or paste.
I have a few strategies to help push the spirit along until Spring, and Paperwhites are just one of those little boosts that can facilitate propelling you into the next season. After last winter’s batch was finished, I planted the spent bulbs out in the yard. Hopefully, those will come up around April, if the squirrels didn’t get to them first.
Somebody once gave me a very pretty bowl with rocks and maybe two or three Paperwhites. The smell filled the whole house, and I confess to never quite deciding whether or not I actually liked the odor. Husband-person definitely did NOT like the smell and insisted that I get that damned thing out of the house. I packed the bowl up carefully to return it to the person who gave it to me, but somehow it jumped off the table and there were rocks and shards everywhere. She was very angry – she wanted her rocks back. I threw them out with the glass bits – it was safer than picking through them.
I am not sure if I recall the smell, but I think piss is closer than paste somehow.
Paperwhites always lift my spirits. Amaryllis too, though the one I bought from christmas Tree Shop this year was a mutant, only reaching about 5 inches tall, with two sort of ugly blossoms. the reblooming orchid is making up for it though!!!
For the record – the friend confirmed that the paperwhites smelled like “paste” to her. The cue I did not pick up on at the time which would have clarifed that was that “piss” is a not word she would use……..