Searching for ways to fill their rooms with the blooms and fragrances of spring, the Victorians began experimenting with forcing bulbs. This skill became an important addition to the Victorian housewife's list of domestic accomplishments. Bulbs were sold by door-to-door salesmen and through mail-order catalogues as early as the 1830's.
Not only did bulbs provide instant gratification, but they offered possibilities of prolonging the pleasure of floral company throughout the long, dark winter.
The Victorians were particularly partial to single Hyacinths, which are easy to grow and wonderfully fragrant. Growing other Holland bulbs (Dutch imports) - such as crocus, snowdrops, narcissus and tulips - also created drama and excitement in the Victorian home. As technology improve, allowing interiors to be warmer and brighter, more exotic bulbs (such as Calla and Bermuda lilies), were able to be grown.
Bright yellow Narcissus formed from hardy garden bulbs flourish in a natural straw setting
Today, the available range of both Holland and Cape Bulbs (originating from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa) is vastly greater than our Victorian grandmothers could ever have imagined. We can obtain both tender bulbs (planted in the spring to form summer flowers, such as gladioli) hardy bulbs (planted in the fall, requiring a cold winter treatment, such as tulips) as well as Holland and Cape bulbs, pre-potted and pre-chilled varieties. And we can use our modern refrigerators to trick our bulbs into believing that Old Man Winter has come - and gone!
What has not changed - and never will - is our sense of wonder at seeing a lowly, unpromising bulb sprout first roots, then leaves and finally, a burst of fragrant flowers - each one keeping its promise of spring.
Perfect for the novice, Paperwhites are easy to grow and wonderfully fragrant