Thanks for joining our garden. I’m sorry it was so late in the year before you were planted, but luckily we’re pretty far south for such a northern country; winter hasn’t really arrived yet.
You might be wondering what kind of a life you can expect here. Perhaps you noticed the relatively haphazard way in which you were planted- at high speed, not evenly spaced, and at inconsistent depths. No one was thoroughly watered, like all the packages recommend, but it’s supposed to rain soon, so that should help. Those of you who are most likely to be eaten by squirrels over the winter (tulips- I’m looking at you) did receive a dusting of cayenne pepper before the soil was swept back over, but otherwise you’ve largely been left to fend for yourself.
The good news is you’re in good company. I planted around 250 of you this year, and I’m certain I’ve planted close to 1,500 bulbs over the last seven autumns. You probably noticed some of your older and more experienced neighbours when I accidentally dug them up while trying to find space to plant you.
That happens a lot. Every spring I tell myself I’m going to mark the areas in the garden where there aren’t enough bulbs to make things easier in the autumn, and every spring I’m too busy keeping one step ahead of the weeds to do so. Some of you had a taste of what that feels like when I accidentally dug you up the same day I planted you because I’d forgotten where I’d been digging.
I have a lot of sympathy for squirrels who can’t find their acorns.
Not all of you will grow, of course. Some of you I’ll have planted too deep, and others I’ll have planted too shallow, and some of you will be eaten by squirrels or dug up by squirrels and abandoned on the surface. Some of you will bloom next year but then never again. You at least have the advantage that I’ve learned not to cut off your leaves until they’ve died back, so you’ll be able to store up all your energy for the following year. I got a little snip-happy one day this spring, so it might not be as colourful next year as you would expect given the number of bulbs in the garden.
Some of you will get to meet my kid. He spends a lot of time keeping me company in the garden. When he was younger he used to like helping me plant bulbs. I’d dig the hole and he’d drop the bulb in, telling each one, “Night, night, bulb. See you in the spring.” These days he doesn’t plant or weed much but he loves digging for nature. The rule is he can’t dig for nature where there’s an established plant, so he digs in the empty spots which also happen to be where you hang out. He’s very good about putting you back in the ground when he fills in the hole, but he doesn’t always pay attention to which end should point up.
Lest you think the life of a bulb in the garden is unfairly difficult, I hasten to point out that, in my garden, the general attitude towards plants is one of benign neglect. I water perennials the first year they’re put into the soil, but after that they have to rely on rainfall and the occasional full-garden sprinkler. We mulch semi-regularly and I do weed, although you’re likely to have died back by the time I really get started on my annual battle against the bindweed that’s hiding almost everywhere. I’m pleased to say that I’m finally winning the war there.
I make the same mistakes with my perennials that I do with my bulbs. I forget that I’ve planted them and pull them out in the spring, thinking that they’re weeds (icelandic poppy and red coneflower, I am truly sorry). I let other plants overgrow them and block out their light (lupins, if you’re not dead, I promise no more calendula incursions next spring). I dig them up and move them around if I don’t think they’re thriving (and sometimes the digging up and the moving around guarantees that they won’t be thriving).
Plants in my garden have to make flowers (sorry, ornamental grasses, I’m not very sorry that you all died). Most of them need to attract bees and butterflies. They need to be pest resistant as the sum total of my pest control strategy is occasionally sprinkling baby powder on the oriental lilies so the red lily beetles don’t eat them. There are a lot of worms in our garden, so I hope you like worms (there are also lots of grubs and larvae and centipedes and snails and pill bugs and ants, to judge from the results of my son’s digging for nature expeditions).
The good news is that most plants get to just keep on growing. I’m always looking to fill in gaps, and block out the bindweed, so it’s rare that I make the decision to uproot or even divide a plant (although, salvia, your time is coming; yours too, prairie coneflower). I know I should pull out tulip bulbs when they only send up one leaf and no flower, but I often just cut the leaf off instead when I’m weeding, and the bulb survives to grow again another year.
You don’t know this yet, but you’ve become part of something very special. The corner where you now live used to be a terrible eyesore in the neighbourhood. It’s taken a lot of time and energy, and there’s been a lot of sweat, some swearing, some crying, and even some blood, but I’ve turned our little patch of earth into something I can be proud of, something our neighbours always comment on when they walk by. When I was out this week planting you and cutting back the frost-wilted plants, nearly everyone who walked past stopped to ask what I was planting and to tell me how much they were looking forward to the spring.
The garden is beautiful in almost every season, but you, my bulbs, you are the heralds of spring. The indigo and yellow and lavender of the crocuses is the first promise that the winter is ending, and every year I count the blooms as they emerge. Yes, daffodils, I know that when the tulips are at their peak they are a riot of colour and everyone is drawn to their showy exuberance, but I love you best for your cheerful yellow faces and your steadfast loyalty in returning every year. Irises, you are a new experiment this year as I adore your larger cousins. And snowdrops, you’ve been a dead loss in the garden every other time I’ve planted you, so hopefully you’re game for a challenge.
I may grumble and complain about planting bulbs in the autumn, when the days are too short and the wind is too sharp, but when spring comes I am reminded, again, that every bloom was worth it.
Night night, bulbs.
See you in the spring.