Holiday Gift Project for Kids No. 2: Forced Bulbs for Future Flowers

Meanwhile, back at Noni Doni’s little sweatshop workshop, we bring you the second in a series of holiday gift projects: Forced bulbs that will grow into beautiful spring flowers inside your home.

This is probably one of the easiest and least-messy projects. No glitter like last week’s reptile jewelry project. 

Forcing bulbs indoors in the winter is one of my favorite things to do. It brings color inside when it’s cold and dreary outside, and it’s fun to watch the progression as naked bulbs grow into blooming flowers. This makes a lovely gift for anyone, but it’s especially sweet to give to someone who doesn’t get out much, as it gives the feeling of having a little indoor garden.

Early last month, in honor of Husband No. 2, I put some Narcissus papyraceus (paperwhites) in two tall vases in which I’d placed some gravel from my driveway. I set them on the bathroom windowsill and let them do their thing. Over the next weeks, it was fun to get up each day and see how much they’d grown.

A word about Narcissus papyraceus: they have the kind of scent that people tend to either like or hate. I happen to love the scent, but in the case of Husband No. 2, he hated the scent as much as he hated the scent of my beloved stargazer lilies. That alone should have been a red flag. Now, I can fill my house with Narcissus papyraceus and stargazer lilies to my heart’s content.

But back to the kids.

What makes this especially ideal for kids is it’s part art project, part science project. My grandchildren have been watching with fascination the bathroom paperwhites, and were surprised when I told them that those “wormy” looking things were roots, and they learned to imagine what it must look like beneath the soil as roots from trees, shrubs, flowers, weeds, vines and their family’s vegetable garden reach for moisture. They discovered that every bulb has a top and a bottom, that the bottoms face down and the tops face up.

I found a huge selection of boxed spring bulbs at Winco for 98 cents a box, and brought home an assortment. As usual, the 5-year-old chose quickly, and had no regrets about her white tulips, while her 8-year-old brother vacillated, back and forth, back and forth, between the red tulips and the purple crocuses, finally choosing the red tulips, with a caveat.

“Hey, Noni, I have an idea. How about if we include the purple flowers with our tulips?”

Sure. Why not?

I bought sacks of polished stones at the Dollar Tree; one for each child. I know better than to get one bag to share, despite the fact that one bag would have been plenty. The extra dollar for an extra bag was worth the sanity of the kids not fighting over a sack of rocks, who got the most, who got the best colors, who got the biggest, and on and on. And this is the wisdom that comes from being a Noni: Don’t sweat it. Get an extra sack of rocks if it will keep the peace.

Every single solitary rock was hand-selected and placed in jars.

The kids were funny about their rocks, which they inspected and turned over and commented upon, as if they were jewels. This is the thing about any project with kids, on the one hand, with some projects, they can be in and out and all done in mere minutes. But with other activities, like this one, they took their time.

They each filled their jar with a few inches of their special rocks, and then removed the bulbs from the boxes and carefully nestled the bulbs on top of the rocks.

We traced the canning jar lid on the bulb box and cut out the photo so whoever got this gift would know what to expect, and then we attached the lid, like an ornament, to the jar.

We talked about how these would make great gifts – for all the reasons I already mentioned – and that they’d have to instruct whichever lucky person received this gift to put enough water in the jar to just cover the stones, but the water should barely touch the bulb’s bottoms, because too much water could drown the bulbs, and give the roots nothing to reach for. (And there’s a good life lesson there, too, when they’re older.) We talked about how it would be like magic; that soon, those homely little squatty bulbs would send out roots below and their tops would sprout green, and eventually, stalks and stems with buds that would flower.  It would be beautiful.

Ideally, this project would be started early enough in the month so that the bulbs would have sprouted in time to present the gift, so the recipients weren’t under the mistaken impression they were getting a jar of rocks. But it’s perfectly OK to give the container with the undeveloped bulbs and a note of promised beauty to come.

My grandson said he had a serious question for me.

“Noni, can we keep these instead of giving them away, and keep them in our bedrooms?”

He was very happy with his bulb project.

Sure. Why not? Even elves deserve to make gifts for themselves sometimes.

His sister was as pleased as her brother at the prospect of keeping what she’d created.

The 5-year-old can’t wait to see her white tulips bloom.

The next project I’ll share with you for a holiday gift is something that I doubt the kids will want to keep, but it’s a fun project just the same: Bouquet garni.

In the meantime, I highly recommend this forced-bulb project for you, too. You can use all kinds of containers, and all kinds of bulbs. You can give them as gifts, or borrow a page from my grandchildren’s book, and keep them for yourself.

We could all use a little spring beauty in our lives right about now.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    These little ones are so lucky to you for their Noni.

  2. Avatar Debbie Davis says:

    What a treasured gift to give, and receive.

  3. Avatar Ann B. says:

    I think I will have to steal this idea. Thank you.

  4. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    I’m already an Honorary Grigsby, but I am greedy and would like you to be my Noni, too, in spite of the fact that you are far too young to be that, for me. Still, I can dream, right?

    I mean… crafts and baking and fun and life lessons (and that Narcissus joke which I’m still chuckling over)… these are just some of the elements of an excellent Noni!

    • Well, Deb, I’m flattered and honored to be your adopted Noni. Actually, by some Shasta County standards, that wouldn’t be so far out of the realm of mathematical possibility.

      (And I am an honorary Grigsby, too. Matt’s mom is so welcoming and inclusive, and when it comes to mothers, she’s one of the best.)

  5. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    I hope you know how fortunate you are to have grandchildren physically close enough to you so that you are able to build the roots and sprouts of relationships. What a precious part of you, you are giving them.

    • I DO know how fortunate I am to be close to these two grandchildren. I’m also aware that as the kids grow older, the novelty of hanging out with Noni may fade, so I’m taking advantage of this precious, innocent phase while it lasts.

  6. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Forcing bulbs in the Winter is magic. It’s amazing how quickly the flowers grow…and then you can plant them outside when they’ve finished the cycle. What a great activity for your grands!