Winter White

The season's surprise is a wealth of pristine blooms.
Ellen Riley

White is winter's color, crisp as a frosty morning, and as fresh as a blanket of newly fallen snow. It also provides a welcome interlude between autumn's intensity and spring's full-spectrum outburst.

The number of white blooms available this time of year is astonishing. Nurseries, florists, and grocery stores stock many of these bright favorites, and a walk through the garden may produce other possibilities. Some thrive as houseplants, while others can live between indoors and out. Mix and match your options for arrangements that celebrate this seasonally perfect color, and enjoy a wide array of easy-care flowers.

From the Garden
Camellias are beginning to unfold their pristine petals and look magnificent when cut and brought indoors. Take a container of warm water into the garden, and immerse the short, fresh-cut stems immediately. Once indoors, trim again before arranging the blossoms in a vase or bowl.

Lenten and Christmas roses' starry blooms are now pushing above their umbrella-like foliage. Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) bears a clear white flower, while Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) may be white with spots of pink or purple. Mature flowers have a longer vaselife than those just coming into bloom.

Store Bought
Forced bulbs, so abundant this month, adapt to arrangements inside as well as out. Purchase paperwhites, crocus, hyacinths, and snowdrops in bud or early stages of bloom. Crocus last only several days indoors, so choose tightly budded plants. Paperwhites may be grown outdoors in potting soil or pebbles, where cool temperatures and good light will keep them stocky and upright.

Primroses love sunshine and cool weather, and will last for weeks outdoors. Inside the house, maintain moist soil and keep plants away from a heat source. There are several types to choose, with varying heights and flower shapes. 'Pacific Giant' (Primula polyantha 'Pacific Giant') is short, with flowers gathered close to wide green leaves. Fairy primroses (P. malacoides) have smaller, delicate flowers clustered on tall stems; P. obconica bears mid-sized blossoms in a loose assembly on graceful stems. The slightly fuzzy leaves can occasionally cause a skin rash.

Other white-blooming houseplants are cape primrose (Streptocarpus) and cyclamen. Cape primrose must remain indoors unless temperatures are above 55 degrees, and it prefers a window with early-morning sunlight. Monthly feeding with a blossom-boosting fertilizer will keep it flowering freely through the season. Cyclamen prefers a cool indoor climate, but will easily adapt to life outside under cover from frost.

Show Them Off
Take a cue from the flowers, and keep your containers in the same color palette. Paint terra-cotta pots and saucers white; green leaves appear brighter, and blossoms sparkle against them. A quick coat of spray paint does the trick; be sure to cover the saucers completely with paint.

Make miniature vases for cut flowers by covering small jars with delicate rice paper. A piece of double-stick tape will hold it in place, and a silk cord tied around each one turns something simple into elegant. Small vases require few flowers, so an arrangement can be inexpensive as well as easy. Use one type of flower in each jar, then group the containers on a pretty tray.

For a more informal assembly, use rounds of white birch bark to cover pots of candytuft, Christmas rose, and crocus. Bulbs in pebbles and water have a dressed-down look, appropriate both indoors and out. If you use soil-grown bulbs and want the casual appearance of pebbles instead, shake the soil free, and rinse any remaining residue from the roots. Then tuck each bulb into an antique jelly jar or ice-cream dish with pebbles, and add water.

Winter is the season to enjoy a pause from the hurried past, and to catch a breath before spring. White flowers are a lovely promise of this simple season.

Cut Flowers
For variety, purchase cut stems from a flower shop. There are numerous choices to fit the season, so try a few of each.
  • ranunculus
  • star of Bethlehem
  • amaryllis
  • baby's breath
  • dendrobium orchid

"Winter White" is from the January 2001 issue of Southern Living.