Good to Know
Add flowering bulbs to your holiday decor this year
Watching bulbs blossom into delicate white flowers or large colorful blooms is a delightful tradition during the holiday season.
“Having something beautiful and alive and smells so good … it takes care of the winter doldrums,” said Becky Heath, who owns Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester County with her husband. Flower bulbs have been the family’s business for three generations, and each fall, they sell thousands of paperwhites and amaryllises in time for the holidays.
“You just put them in some water with pebbles, or you put them in soil, stick them in the window, and they start growing,” Heath said.
While they are a traditional holiday plants in the U.S., the bulbs originate overseas—paperwhites are typically grown in Israel and amaryllises in South Africa or the Netherlands. Millions are imported into the U.S. each year and come in multiple varieties.
“Ziva is probably our best seller for the paperwhites. It’s one of the first ones out and really well known,” she said.
Paperwhites like Zivas add a graceful presence to a windowsill, with small, fragrant flowers topping green stems. Amaryllis varieties with double petals, like Aphrodite and Gervase, are popular and create an elegant “peony or rose look.”
Watch this video: Horticulturalist Mark Viette talks about amaryllis bulbs and demonstrates how to plant them so you can enjoy them indoors in this clip from Real Virginia.
Whether bulbs are given as gifts or grown in your home, Heath said, timing is an important consideration—should they bloom for the holidays or during January after seasonal decorations are stored?
Paperwhites, depending on the variety, can bloom in two to five weeks. Dutch amaryllises bloom in four to eight weeks, whereas South African amaryllis bulbs are from a warmer climate and bloom earlier, typically in two to four weeks.
As for her favorite bulb for the holiday season, Heath likes a classic. “There’s (an amaryllis) called Merry Christmas, and it’s very traditional,” she said. “It has six petals, blooms quickly—it has the right name and is so pretty.”
Other bulbs for blooming holiday decor include snowdrops, crocuses and hyacinths.
Other plants offer seasonal cheer
Don’t want to wait for bulbs to bloom? Poinsettias are a classic option to bring immediate holiday warmth to your home. But you can add other festive plants to your seasonal decor as well.
Christmas cacti are low-maintenance succulents that bloom during early- to mid-winter. They are festive with colorful pink, red or white blooms against green stems. Like poinsettias, they flower when the nights get cool and the days shorten.
Cyclamens make an attractive holiday table centerpiece with butterfly-like flowers that extend above heart-shaped leaves. The winter-blooming houseplant enjoys cooler temperatures, bright indirect light and moderate watering.
Oxalis plants have flowers that some consider a symbol of good luck, happiness and prosperity. The False Shamrock variety is a deep maroon color, and the Iron Cross variety combines both green and maroon to create unique cross-shaped markings on the leaves.
Virginia innovator gives recycled glass new life
Good things are happening to the environment in Virginia. Used glass bottles and food containers have a new purpose in home and community landscapes, thanks to a Rockbridge County innovator.
“Sometimes an idea pops in your head, and you say, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea,’” mused Kathy Wirtanen, founder of EarthMagic Recycling.
That idea was taking discarded glass beverage and food containers and converting them into sand—ultimately keeping them out of the landfill. Wirtanen's inspiration came from a YouTube video about a New Zealand company employing similar methods to tackle glass recycling, which can be costly and burdensome for localities.
“Across the U.S., we only recycle about 35% of glass annually,” said Wirtanen, a Rockbridge County Farm Bureau member. “And in Virginia, it’s even lower. Virginia only recycles about 15%. I’m hoping that as a community, we can raise some of the glass recycling rates.”
Wirtanen sources the food and beverage glass by partnering with localities, residents and businesses like breweries, cideries and wineries.
Housed in a factory that previously printed paper products for the tobacco industry, EarthMagic Recycling’s machines separate glass into five sizes and multiple colors. The glass is processed to ensure no sharp edges, and ranges in size from coarse gravel to fine powder like flour.
And from crafting to construction, there’s no shortage of uses for the recycled glass sand, Wirtanen said. The large-sized sand can be used in landscaping projects to improve drainage and filtration while adding color to the surroundings. The smaller sizes work well for animal bedding and to help keep areas clean.
Community response has been positive, she said. A local hemp grower expressed interest in using her recycled glass sand in its potting mix, and Natural Bridge State Park is using it in a disc golf course.
“Our vision is just to make a difference in the environment,” she said. “Even if it’s one piece of glass at a time.”
Black Forest Mousse-Trifle for the holiday
Triple your cheer with this spectacular three-layer chocolate and cherry trifle. Start a new tradition with this festive holiday dessert.
Make merry with cherry and chocolate decadence
Cherries and chocolate are a classic combination and can add extra cheer to your holiday table.
Treats like black forest cake, cherry bon bons—and even simple chocolate covered cherries—are the epitome of dessert indulgence as the sweet fruit complements the richness of the cocoa.
Cherries are nutritious—rich in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins A, C and K. The small stone fruit also contains potassium, magnesium, calcium and choline. Adding cherries or cherry products like juice to your diet can promote heart health, reduce inflammation and may even aid in exercise recovery.
There are two main types of cherries: sweet and tart, with several varieties of each. And while most cherries in the U.S. are grown in the Great Lakes region and on the West Coast, many Virginia orchards cultivate cherry trees. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture in 2017, 139 Virginia farms grew sweet cherries on 112 acres, and 67 farms grew tart cherries on 24 acres.