During the tumultuous spring when outdoor gardening is still a daydream, you can bring the luxurious touch of fresh flowering bulbs into your home.
Potted bulbs are a wonderful alternative until you can dig into your own garden.
If properly tended, your bulbs will be long lasting, fun to watch, and - if you're lucky - may have a second life outdoors.
"You get beautiful and flamboyant flowers that appear in the dead of winter; it's like having spring indoors," says Sally Ferguson, spokesperson for the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.
From January through March is the peak time for potted bulbs. You'll find a variety to choose from in supermarkets, gift shops and gardening centers.
When shopping, choose a plant with tight buds that barely show the color of the flowers.
"That way you get to see the entire process of (flower) opening. Part of the fun is watching bulbs grow," Ferguson says.
If you don't want instant blooms, set the plant on a cool windowsill. The lower temperature will retard the growing process and the plant will last weeks longer. Ferguson suggests keeping the bulbs in a chilly, but not freezing spot while you're away and returning them to warmth when you're at home.
You can also use flowering bulbs to add delightful color to an early spring outdoor garden. Check your local temperatures. If the mercury at night falls to or below 32 degrees, leave the bulbs in their container. Just bring them outdoors during the daytime; once it's warmer, replant the bulbs in the dirt.
"They'll grow and bloom as they would have if you planted them in the fall," Ferguson says.
You can experiment with replanting the bulbs. Set the plant aside after the blooms die. Pull off the dead stems and leaves, and plant the bulbs outdoors in the fall.
However, don't expect success, says Ferguson.
"There's no guarantee. Think of (the potted bulbs) as a bouquet. They're to be enjoyed now," she says.
Popular summer flowering bulbs such as dahlias, lilies, gladioli, caladiums and elephant ears are native to tropical regions. Plant them directly in your garden any time in warmer zones and after the threat of frost in northern climes.
Forward thinkers can start these tender bulbs indoors anywhere from six to three weeks before planting time, for the best displays.