IN FEBRUARY, my window garden is filled with the most delicious scent in the world — that of Freesia lacteal. This South African traveler is very easy to grow, for the bulb doesn’t require a chilling period. However, the top-heavy flowers on thin, arching stems do benefit from support of some kind. And the best time to arrange that support is at planting time in autumn. Here is my easy method for planting, staking, and forcing freesia indoors:
In October (or November at the latest), fill a crocked clay pot half-full with any well-draining mixture (I use 2 parts leaf mold to one part perlite). A six-inch “azalea” pot will accommodate five bulbs. Arrange the bulbs with their sprouting points up.
Next, plunge a two-foot-long bamboo stick beside each bulb. Bamboo sticks are available at any garden center. To hold the sticks in place, simply firm the soil around them.
Add more soil to barely cover the bulbs, and then press gently to firm. As always, leave a one inch opening between the soil surface and the top of the pot to allow for watering. Soak the pot well, and thereafter, provide just enough water to maintain even moisture. The soil should never be allowed to dry out, nor should it be so saturated as to invite rot.
Full sun and cool temperatures are two conditions that encourage strong growth. My own pots go in the south-facing bay in my Music Room. Because I removed the storm sashes from this window, the bulbs enjoy nighttime temperatures there between 45-55 degrees, and daytime heat that rarely exceeds 65 degrees.
Freesia is one of the more generous plants you can grow, with three to five flowering stems per bulb. These do not emerge all at once, but in a long, luxurious, scented-sequence. When the first budded stem appears, tie it loosely to a stake. Then, about a week later, when the first crop of flowers begins to fade, cut the stem, and tie the next in line to bloom, and so on.
If you order freesias from a bulb specialist, as I do, you can choose from single and double forms in a palette of blue, pink, white, yellow, or red. Last year I planted ‘Double Red’ (above). This made a gorgeous winter picture in conjunction with yellow Narcissus ‘Golden Dawn,’ and blue hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ which bloom at the same time.
Honestly, you will find that freesia is only slightly more difficult to force than a paperwhite narcissus. And its perfume — an exquisite blend of honey and plum — will make you forget all about the frozen world outside. I can’t imagine spending a winter without this amazing plant.
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