The Refrigerator Exposed

– Posted in: Bulbs

Written by Tovah Martin

So secretly – while all this was going on – the refrigerator was having a life of its own. While the amaryllis were blooming on the windowsill and the bulbs in the ex-lawn were laying dormant under their six feet of snow (the plowmen cameth) – deep in the caverns of the frig – mystery was in the making.

Because wedged between the Stonyfield Farm Organic Low Fat Yogurt and the Olivia’s Organic Salad, bulbs were starting their engines. Planted in pots, elbowing out the granola, a winter’s worth of entertainment was waiting in the wings, sending down roots while it went through the pre-chilling cycle. Never has anything in the cooler received so many visits or caused so much conversation (which isn’t a good advertisement for my culinary abilities, I know).

Tulipa pulchella ‘Tete a tete’

In truth, the secret was out long ago. Everyone who knows me (except perhaps my nephew, but he’s an electrical engineer – if it doesn’t have a keyboard, he doesn’t compute), knows that my refrigerator is a wasteland for all practical purposes during early winter. While it’s being harnessed for bulb-prepping purposes, delving into the refrigerator can be depressing when your stomach is rumbling. But I ask you: who needs to eat when you’re being sustained by tulip anticipation?

Of course, you could have your bulbs and eat, too. You could just go and grab up some ‘Princes Irene’ tulips in the brown thumb section of the supermarket and suffer the humiliation at check out. But where’s the glory in that? And would you lose weight? This novel application for the refrigerator could be the revolutionary new diet system that will sweep the nation.

Tulipa clusiana var stellata

If so, the revolutionary diet is sort of short-lived because bulbs only monopolize the shelves for about 10 weeks. Then the tulips come out. So do the narcissus and ipheion. That’s when my true confessions segue smoothly from my refrigerator into the bedroom.

So the scene pans over to the bedroom. Think crisp white cotton sheer curtains, think a window so etched in frost that it sparkles. Think a warm cup of herbal tea. And put me into the picture, sunk deep into 100% Belgian linen antique monogrammed (okay, it’s someone else’s initials…but still) sheets immersed in the pages of T.C. Boyle’s Wild Child. But stir into the air the subtle scent of Narcissus ‘Falconet’ and N. ‘Martinette’ (why did I think this daffodil was appropriate?). Let’s see, how to describe the sensation? Try the redolence of rose spiced with a hint of cinnamon and an undertone of liqueur. Don’t for one heartbeat connect this scent with the stench that pours from a paperwhite. My home-brewed perfume-on-the-hoof is hauntingly sweet, but not cloying.

Tulipa clusiana var stellata with Narcissus ‘Falconette’

That’s the perfume. Now for the visuals. How about a whole bouquet of small mustard-colored blossoms accented by orange throats trumpeting in unison, if you can call that image up in late February. How about little species tulips like Tulipa pulchella ‘Tete a tete’ with ping pong ball-sized, double blossoms in deep garnet red. How about Tulipa clusiana var. stellata with long, candle-like, pink and cream blooms. I didn’t labor long or hard for these. I didn’t go out and chisel them from the cold, cruel, frozen soil. I just popped them out of the frig and onto my windowsill. I tell you, except for a few months of near starvation, it was a cinch.

Species Tulips-2[1]
Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’
Photo courtesy of Kindra Clineff

You’ve got to try this. How can I convince you to get with this program? This year, I’m experimenting with forcing Fritillaria meleagris. No refrigeration needed – for more details, please browse on over to my plant-profiling blog at plantswise. I could go on. But I’m going to drift off into my bedroom – the one with the narcissus fragrance floating in the air, the one with the species tulips gently arching by the window. I’m going to leave my computer now to let its screen slip away into sleep mode. And I’m going to let you boast all about the hyacinths, muscari, puschkinia, etc that you have happening right now…

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
11 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Michael King March 2, 2011, 4:25 am

Now I know why you Americans need such big fridges.
Here in the Netherlands fridges are tiny, but I can see outside on my balcony the noses of tulips sniffing the crisp cool air. In three weeks time the Keukenhof opens – heaven.

Michael: If only they made fridges larger, I’d be the first in line, Michael. I’m thinking of getting a second one. Coincidentally, I was looking at photos of Keukenhof today and wishing our snow would magically disappear. Lucky you.

Stan Horst March 2, 2011, 7:37 am

Love your article. Nice mix of humor, imagery, and education. Forcing bulbs is not yet something I’ve tried, but your beautiful pictures eloquent descriptions are convincing me I have to give it a try!

Stan: You’ve got to try it, Stan. I’m not saying that a few bulbs on the windowsill totally vanquish winter, but they sure go a long way to uplift blahsville. Give Iris reticulata a try – just heard from a fellow in Michigan that I. reticulata will force without a chilling cycle.

professorroush March 2, 2011, 9:56 am

An excellently-written and nearly poetic post Tovah. And thanks for linking to your plantswise blog…I hadn’t found it yet and it looks interesting.

Prof: Thanks for the kind words about, Professor. I’m profiling perennials, annuals, vegetables, houseplants, etc so there should be something for everyone. And I’m hoping to get feedback from other parts of the country.

Ian Hall March 2, 2011, 12:28 pm

Love these ideas for getting some early color in those colder regions of the world out there!! Little ones in the house eliminate the ability for me to do this (no space in my fridge!), but will definitely pass this on to our readers!

Ian: Well, that brings up another point, Ian – you can force bulbs in any chilly place like your barely heated garage, barn, breezeway – any place that stays just above freezing. Bet the kids would love some tulips in their windowsills.

Byddi Lee - We didn't come here for the grass... March 2, 2011, 12:53 pm

I chill my tulips in the fridge because it doesn’t get cold enough where I live in California, but if you have a lawn buried in snow why do you use your fridge? Can’t you just leave them outside?

Byddi: What I wouldn’t give to be seeing bare ground right now, Byddi. I know, I know…it’s good for the perennials buried beneath. But enough is enough. To answer your question – the ideal temperature for chilling bulbs is 40 degrees F. Above ground in a pot outdoors, those little babies would freeze their mits off. For example, they’re predicting 11 degrees tonight

Debra Lee Baldwin March 2, 2011, 8:34 pm

Ha! “…the stench that pours from a paperwhite.” How true. Btw, blue babiana has naturalized in my garden, which must be similar to its native habitat of South Africa (I live in Southern CA). It’s marvelous to have something flourish where there’s no irrigation. Pretty soon, all those green shoots will turn into drifts of purple-blue.

Debra: I confess that I go around with my nose in the air, Debra. I’ve always been infatuated by scent. Do you know that paperwhites emit something chemically akin to mothballs and cat musk? I’m rating several paperwhite scents and recommending the most livable in my next post on

Dawn March 2, 2011, 10:15 pm

Living in Florida I can only remember paperwhite scents from England. Here in USA Zone 10/11 -not a paperwhite in sight. BtW what WAS the monogram on the linens, just curious?

I thought that perhaps you could grow paperwhites, Dawn, because they don’t require a chilling cycle. The monogram is not far from the mark — it’s MM. The linen has a unique cut out design and a fold over placket. I get my bed linens from Susan Oostdyk who learned about linens from her mother.

meemsnyc March 3, 2011, 1:04 am

I’ve never used the fridge to chill bulbs. Nice idea.

The last of my bulbs just came out yesterday and — you know what? — I sort of miss them. The refrigerator feels so empty…But I’ve got plenty of buds happening on windowsills.

Flâneur Gardener March 3, 2011, 1:20 am

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing, both the practical tips and the wonderful ambiance.

Thank you for stopping by. My neon orange tulip ‘Easter Surprise’ just opened yesterday and the scent is beyond description. Who takes a moment to bury their nose in a tulip outdoors? But when it sits by your elbow, who can resist inhaling the scent?

allanbecker-gardenguru March 3, 2011, 8:55 pm

“Tulipa clusiana var stellata with Narcissus ‘Falconette’”
What an extra ordinary photo. Reminds me of the window illuminated paintings by Vermeer.

You’re too kind, Allan. But I assure you, the credit goes to Jack Frost. He painted the entire window with such a great pattern that it played great light on my crew cossetted inside.

Dawn March 8, 2011, 7:56 pm

I found this online, Miami-Dade is 50 miles + south of me and hotter. If they think it is possible I will give it a go. I thought we might be too humid and moldy for it to be bothered with. thanks!

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