In mid December I went to the market only to find myself walking past a large bin of bulbs that the store manager had strategically placed next to the entrance. They had clearly engaged in some kind of closeout deal because bulb planting time had pretty much passed for our region, and the pricing was ridiculously low at bags of 50 or 75 bulbs for $4.99. I already have established beds of crocus, so I reached for the tulips and narcissus in the fifty pack, and then felt virtuous for only buying one bag while texting a few friends to let them know about the deal. I know they aren’t natives, but they will live quite companionably alongside all sorts of other perennials, and, truth be told, I find that there is a beautiful metaphor in bulbing flowers. You dig a hole in the dead of winter, place a papery-skinned, gnarled, lumpy and lifeless item into the ground, then cover it with soil and mulch. When the weather begins to warm the next year, it will emerge with all its friends, singing of spring in the most glorious colors and scents.
When I was growing up in Florida I developed a serious case of Northern Bulb Envy. My mother and grandmother tended beautiful beds of amaryllis, crinums, pink zephyr lilies, and other floral wonders that thrive in more tropical temperatures, and I would page through the plant catalogs each year, dreaming of tulips and hyacinth. Such is the folly of youth, I suppose, but I still can’t resist buying the bulbs, and if you can walk past fifty for five bucks, well, you have some remarkable gardening self control that I lack. I should have planted them immediately, but the weather turned, and it went badly enough that we had frozen ground for a while, so they sprouted in the bag and I have just now put them out. Fingers crossed the chilling time necessary for flowering took place in the fields where they were grown.
It was a gorgeous day today, the first really nice, warm day of spring, and I went out with a rake, a shovel, and a hoe to remove the carpets of weeds and prep the bed. The first day of spring gardening is also the moment that I face the inevitability that, once again, I have grossly overestimated my level of physical fitness. I’m not a marathoner, but I can jog a decent distance at a fairly respectable pace, and I’ve been trying to cross train a bit with Cameron’s rowing machine. Nonetheless, a couple of hours in a few square meters of weeds with hand-held tools have pretty much kicked my rear, and not for the first time.
I have one of those cylindrical, metal tools that one can press down into the soil, engage a lever, and, at least in theory, pull up a perfectly-shaped piece of the earth that can then be dropped right back down on top of the bulb you placed into the bottom of the hole. I’ve used it for years, and in practice it takes more effort than one might expect in clay soils, and it is not nearly as efficient or effective as I would like. This year, right after acquiring the bulbs, the postal service delivered an auger that can be mounted on a drill. I felt a little guilty about that purchase right up until the first planting hole was produced in approximately three nanoseconds with a modicum of effort on my part. After clearing the space by hand it felt like having a decadent dessert, the reward for all the weeding, and all fifty bulbs went in without exhausting a single battery. Marvelous. I sprinkled the seeds from a couple of packets of annual flower seeds onto the bare soil and then pulled the leaves back over everything. There are four days of rain in the forecast, and I’m hopeful that it will all settle in for me.
I had an ambitious plan for the day including delusions of potting up all kinds of cool weather, spring seeds, but I could already tell that I was going to be communing with some NSAIDs, so I finished up by planting a few alliums that had sprouted on the counter in the kitchen. I could chuck them in the compost and feel like they had not gone to waste, but it’s kind of fun to grow things that seem to be determined to get going on their own. On the right is a sweet onion that sprouted last fall and has passed the entire winter out here, and on the left is one that sprouted this week. I also put out a full bulb’s worth of garlic cloves that had tiny, little green shoots coming out of them. In a few weeks they can be harvested like green onions and used for all kinds of recipes where I want a mild garlic flavor. If you type “green garlic” into a search engine you may also find yourself tucking the sprouted cloves here and there in the garden instead of throwing them out, and if you forget to pull them, just wait a while and a nice bulb of garlic will appear. Such is the magic of spring planting season.