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Camp Frémont

Gardening, Photography, and Homeschool.

- by Sarah Fremont

  • Sarah Fremont

One of our favorite traditions during every Christmas season is to bring a bit of the garden indoors during a time when most of our plants are resting. We do this by forcing bulbs, specifically the bulbs of the Paperwhite Narcissus. To "force" a bulb means to coax them to bloom indoors out of season. There are many bulbs that can be forced, but we have found the Paperwhite to be the easiest. It does not require a chilling period for the bulb before you begin and can be done in a simple glass jar with rocks or pebbles, instead of soil.

How to force the Paperwhite Narcissus bulb:

  1. Purchase bulbs. Paperwhite bulbs are often sold at hardware stores at the beginning of the Christmas season or online. After bringing the bulbs home, we like to peel any loose bits of the brown outer layer before beginning.

  2. Find a clear glass jar or vase. They can be any size, but we have found that taller jars help support the stem of the flower as it begins to grow. (Paperwhites will grow twelve to fourteen inches.)

  3. Layer an inch or two of rocks or pebbles at the bottom of the vase to give the roots space to grow.

  4. Place the bulb root side down into the rocks or pebbles. The larger the vase, the more bulbs you can use. Feel free to squeeze them in tightly, as long as all the bulbs have room to grow up and form roots below.

  5. Pour water into the vase so just the bottom of the bulbs is touching the water. If too much of the bulb is covered, it will get soggy and rotten. The bulb will absorb water, so you will need to periodically add water to keep the bottom of the bulb touching the water.

  6. Place the vase in an area of the house away from windows, until you see signs that the bulbs have rooted. When you see fleshy white roots poking through the bottom of the bulb, you can move the vase to a sunny windowsill.

The Paperwhite Narcissus will begin to produce clusters of small white flowers within four to six weeks. For Christmas blooms, begin forcing your bulbs around the third week of November. The flowers of most varieties produce a moderate to strong musky fragrance. We have several people in our home that enjoy the smell and a few that don’t!

Forcing Paperwhite bulbs is a lovely way to bring a bit of green and bloom into your home during the Christmas season. Additionally, prepared forced bulb vases make beautiful homemade gifts.

Happy blooming!

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  • Sarah Fremont

We were living on a greenbelt in Texas and we had invited friends over for an outdoor fall picnic. After the meal, we passed out brown paper bags filled with small round balls of clay and had everyone head out into the wild, undeveloped land. “Okay! Toss the balls along the path as we walk through the woods!” We spent the rest of the beautiful, autumn afternoon scattering the clay balls and enjoying the time strolling in nature. What strange ritual had we forced upon our picnic guests? The sowing of seed balls!

Seed balls are small balls comprised of clay, compost, and seeds. The seeds, encased in clay, lay on the open ground protected until they break open with the first heavy rainfall. The seeds then scatter on the ground, nourished by the compost, and ready to take root. This self-contained garden is a beautiful way to revitalize the native landscape and attract pollinators.

In Texas, we were spoiled by walking through the neighborhood to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and purchasing ready-made seed balls. But now that we have moved to the mountains of New Mexico, it is time for us to make our own. Our new property has been abandoned for a few years and the perimeter of the property is in rough shape. A wonderful requirement for our new neighborhood is that the yard must maintain a native landscape and all plants, trees, and grass added to the property must be native. We back up to a national forest and it is important to maintain the integrity of the terrain. This is a perfect opportunity for seed balls!

To make your own seed balls:


-One and a half parts clay (We will be using clay from our own backyard. You could also obtain clay reclaimed from a local potter.)

-One-part compost


-Native Seeds (grass or wildflowers—check with your local nursery for seeds native to the area)


  1. Mix clay and compost in a large bowl. (Use your hands!) Add enough water to hold the mixture together.

  2. Add in your native seeds. Distribute evenly.

  3. Shape mixture into balls. Each ball should be penny to golf-ball-sized.

  4. Place the seed balls on cardboard and allow them to dry. (About one week.)

  5. Sow your seed balls. (In Texas we would sow in the fall, before a big rain. Here in New Mexico, we will throw out the seed balls before summer rains.) Make sure your seed balls land on bare ground. You will not need to water them.

Seed balls are a sweet way to garden in the wild and undeveloped areas, add native flowers to a sparse landscape, and provide food for pollinators. Happy sowing! xo

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  • Sarah Fremont

When I was ten my grandmother gifted us tulip bulbs to plant alongside our home. She had brought them back from a trip to Holland and waited for the fall to present them to us. We spent the afternoon helping her dig holes along our path and dropping the bulbs in with their little tops pointing up. It felt like we were tucking away special gifts that would be opened in the spring. We had to wait through the long, cold winter of Minnesota, but when spring finally arrived it seemed even more glorious after enduring the dark, bleak days. The snow finally started melting and by April we knew the tulips should be peaking through the soil. We waited, but they never came. What happened to the tulips? Our answer arrived on the other side of the yard- random tulips started popping up everywhere! Apparently, the squirrels had found our fall bulbs, dug them up, and moved them to another area of the yard only to forget about them later. Every spring after that we always chuckled when the tulips arrived, randomly planted by our burrowing friends.

Have you ever tucked away bulbs in the fall for a delightful spring surprise? They are easy to care for and require little maintenance after being placed in the ground. Here are a few tips:

  1. Plant your bulbs no later than the end of December so they have time to chill in the ground and bloom by spring. We usually plant our bulbs in October.

  2. Dig a hole two to three times deeper than the width of the bulb, place the bulb in the hole with its tip pointing up, cover with dirt, and water thoroughly after planting.

  3. Bulbs look best planted in groupings of three or more of the same flower.

  4. To keep burrowing animals from digging up the bulbs, we have had success adding a bit of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to the planting area.

  5. Add a layer of mulch on top of the soil to keep moisture in the ground and to protect the bulbs in the winter.

Pick out a few bulbs this fall, drop them in the ground, and enjoy this simple gardening delight. Happy planting! xo

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