Calling all you procrastinators out there, its that time of year again. I don’t mean its time to put away the Halloween decorations, that can be put off until after Thanksgiving, when you have to go up into the attic, the basement, the garage, to haul out the Christmas stuff. No folks, I am talking about BULBS.
For those of you who crave instant gratification, bulb planting is just not much fun. In fact, it has to be called a “labor of love”, with the emphasis on “labor” because digging holes in hard soil is just toil. (No pun intended!)
There is no question that the daffodil is one of my favorite flowers. Despite adverse winter conditions, the daffy peeks out of the ground, then pushes itself upright, and opens up its glorious yellow head to pronounce itself Queen of the garden and boast that it beats the tulips every time.
I know there are hundreds of different varieties, some with white petals and delicate orange centers, others with pointed leaves, or white in their middles, but I go for the old fashioned King Alfred daff which has a big trumpet and large petals. If I am going through all that work to bury the bulb in the soil, I want big bang for my buck.
Very often I think our preferences for various things come from memories instilled in childhood. That’s certainly true of iced buns, for example, which around here appear commercially as “hot cross buns” at Easter. I remember as a child growing up in post war Britain, going to the bakery and for tuppence you could get a round bun, gentle brown on top, sprinkled with sugar crystals and inside would be bits of glace fruit. Delicious just like that, but cut in half and toasted, butter melting into the holes, it was sublime.
So it must be with daffodils. Not that I ate them of course. But every proper English student is obliged at some point to learn Wordsworth’s famous poem about daffodils. Apparently Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem after a walk with his sister one stormy day in the Lake District of England.
In her journal entry for 15 April 1802 his sister Dorothy described the walk with her brother and “ how the daffodils ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake.’ ” Wordsworth wrote the first version of the poem in 1804.
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee: —
A poet could not but be gay
In such a laughing company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.
So back to planting my daffodil bulbs. You would think by now I wouldn’t have to plant any more bulbs. They are supposed to propagate themselves and multiply but truth be told, whoever started that rumor didn’t have gophers in her garden. While deer rather disdain the yellow flower, whatever the snails don’t get, the gophers will certainly enjoy. So every year I go to the nursery to buy my King Alfreds. Then it’s the usual dilemma. Do I buy the big sack of 50 bulbs to save money, or rationalize that I really don’t need 50 and should perhaps just settle for 20. I am now in my seventies and you would think I could avoid this annual dilemma by simply going up to the bin, grabbing the sack and be done with it. But no, it’s always a question: perhaps this year I should try a different variety of daffodil? Or no daffs at all but crocus, or hyacinth or some other exotic?
The rains stopped yesterday so I knew the earth was ready for digging. Last month I knew there was no point going to the nursery because the soil was like cement. What a relief!
Out to the site this morning but wait! Where is my trusty digging tool. I cannot be expected to dig holes without my special tool. Oh, there it is, but wait, I don’t have any bone meal. A daffy cannot be expected to be plopped into a hole without bone meal. Down to the shed and there is a half empty bag, holes all over the top from some animal gnawing at the plastic. Ah well, it will do.
Now expert gardeners say you should simply throw your bulbs out helter skelter and plant where they rest. That’s okay if you have a castle with big grounds and plentiful rain. But I live in California and we have drip irrigation. You have to be respectful of black plastic pipes and then there are the roots from other existing plantings. So I ignore that advice and make my holes judiciously.
Now we come to depth of hole. Look at the chart on the back of the sack and it very clear that it instructs the two inch bulb to be buried FOUR TIMES the size of the bulb. “Get real” I say to myself. I mean, that would mean a hole that is more than eight inches deep. No way is that going to happen. I get that sucker into the hole with its head buried and that’s it. It seems to have worked in the past but perhaps that is why I am not getting them to multiply.
More decisions. What to do when I chop a worm in half. I felt really bad, and hope it wasn’t in pain. I remember back from biology class that they grow a new body part so perhaps he will be survive and do whatever he does to improve my soil. The next decision is what to do about the little rocks and large pebbles? Are they supposed to stay in the hole for drainage? Should I collect them and dispose of them, or toss them to another part of the garden and hope I never have to plant anything over in that spot. The last option works best!
Of course there are weeds growing just where you want to dig your hole. I tried to pretend the weed wasn’t there and judiciously avoided that spot, but then guilt kicked in and I knew I would have to make theeffort to remove it and all those I within my peripheral vision.
Digging a fresh hole, I encountered another awkward moment when I came across a bulb from last year and killed half of it. Its little baby stalk that was growing so well was chopped off the mother bulb by my long silver blade. Prince Charles is laughed at for speaking to his flowers. Just as well no one was listening as I apologized to that poor little bulb.
Fifteen bulbs into the ground, marked with popsicle sticks, only thirty five more to go. The weather forecast predicts rain in the next day or so. What a shame, now I won’t be able to plant those other 35 bulbs until later….