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A View From the Woods - 11/14/11


Fri, Nov 11th, 2011
Posted in Columnists

Delayed Gratification

Planting bulbs in the fall to bloom in the spring is one of the least pleasant tasks to get through in the gardening year. In this instant gratification world, you are definitely going against the grain with bulbs.

The inspiration first comes many months before you can do a thing about it. Desire is ignited by the sight of a springtime patch of cheerful crocus blooming through the snow, or a dazzling stand of red tulips set off by lime green leaves. The heart responds, and you want that in your garden. I want that color. I want that combination of white and pink. I want early blooms. Yet there is nothing you can do to make it happen in the spring.

You must wait for the bulb catalogs to arrive and keep them piled up somewhere all summer long, so you can search the house in a panic come October when it is time to place an order.

Just when your grief over summer's passing is about worked through, and you've turned your back on the garden to take up winter indoor pastimes, the box of bulbs arrives. It usually comes on a raw, windy November day, and the label on the box shouts to open immediately and plant as soon as possible. Since snow is in the air, you know they are not kidding. Yet trudging out to the cold dead garden is the last thing you want to do.

Harder than the actual digging is figuring out where to dig. The flower beds are a sea of straggly brown dead plants, and the woodland gardens are buried under a foot of leaves. Where are the dormant plants? Where is there room to tuck in more? You go ahead and plunge in the shovel, add compost, bury the bulbs, and cover them over with leaves. There is no trace of what you've just done, and you must simply walk away. There will be a blanket of snow over it for the next four months. Talk about lack of gratification.

But all winter long, while you almost forget about them, those bulbs are slowly sending roots down into the cold soil, preparing for their moment of glory. If the bulbs were good, and the mice don't find them, and if spring comes slowly enough that the buds don't freeze... Then those first brave flowers will bring an enjoyment so intense that you'll catch your breath in gratitude, and know it was worth the effort.

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