It is a northern gardener’s life to be unable to garden outdoors for half the year (or more). Just one of gardening’s many great lessons: patience. That and learning about cycles. Cycles of seasons, light and shadow, decay and rebirth. Of noticing migrating birds when they leave, and when they return again. When the massive queen bumblebees emerge and drowsily look for new dens to start this year’s hive, eliciting alarm as they buzz close by ears and again reacquaint us to the sound of buzzing creatures. And of the tenacious determination of green growing things, pushing through the soil and sometimes even, through snow.
This is what makes me so happy to plant flowering bulbs. I adore spring bulbs because I do it every autumn – almost – and they perk up into a spring-thawing but otherwise brown garden just when I need it most. March! Okay… April, but by March I’ve got some forced mini-bulbs growing indoors and am busy planning a tea party luncheon, but I digress.
Even in those years when autumn rushes right past in the blink of an eye, because Mother Nature was in a hurry and flung us from late summer right into winter with a massive September snowfall (like this past fall), I can rely on spring flowering bulbs to keep coming even if I fail to add to their numbers. If we gardeners select a zone-appropriate bulb that is resistant to grazing (ie: tastes unpleasant to animals) and plant it at the correct depth in the right location (read: if they’re ‘happy’) bulbs will continue blooming and even multiplying year after year with no further assistance from us, except maybe a handful or so of good compost and leaving their leaves alone. And of course to be remembered where they are and not get accidentally dug up!
But their greatest gift to me, as a northern gardener enduring far too many months of frozen lifeless ground, seems to happen to me every year around this time when I am feeling weary from the short daylight hours and not enough time spent outdoors, I find comfort in simply knowing they’re out there. Tiny little bundles of hope buried under the snow and soil… just waiting for the perfect time to brighten the world. My world. My yard.
I celebrate spring blooming bulbs! Tulips (which survive in a corner of our back yard with a high fence, not in the popular-for-grazing front), Chionodoxa ‘Glory-of-the-snow’, Narcissus ‘Daffodils’, Muscari ‘Grape Hyacinth’, tall purple Allium… plus their rhizome-cousins Crocus, Lily and Iris… your very presence brightens my heart. Even unseen, just knowing you’re there and that your bright faces will be blooming soon makes me happy on dreary winter days.
Luckily we can all buy them already blooming in containers to grace our kitchen table or bedside (talk to your florist and try to buy organic). And after having read that planting previously ‘forced’ bulbs in our gardens to be a lost cause, I’ve found that to be untrue. I had mini-daffodils and grape hyacinths forced in containers and once they were done blooming I put them in the garage, forgot about them for a couple of YEARS and then threw the pot contents into a wild corner of our backyard. They actually took root and grew! I now have a little patch of Tete-a-tete daffodils and Muscari that come back every spring. How cool is that? So if you have a patch of ground, throw those spent bulbs in and they may or may not come back, but why throw them in the garbage when, sometimes, they come back? Mind you bulbs hate to be ‘naked’ for long and the dormant ones I mentioned were in a dry pot of soil. I’ve tried this with bulbs I’d had left over in the package for a while without the same success.
Of course I adore all my perennials, shrubs and trees – in my own yards and everywhere – but nothing better beckons the coming of spring than the early-blooming bulbs.