By the time you read
this, Christmas and the winter solstice will have come
and gone. It will be hard to tell at first, but we will
be gaining daylight every day. Despite what the calendar
says about the start of true winter, we will be working
our way to spring. The thought is especially pleasing
to me, because this year, for the first time in about
five years, I have finished my bulb planting. There
are no tulips lurking in a corner of the garage making
a silent statement about my slovenly horticultural habits,
and absolutely no crocus bulbs turning to mush within
sight of my underutilized trowels.
My holiday greens may
be only half hung, my Christmas tree may still be reposing
outside in a large dishpan, and one of my two Christmas
wreathes may be languishing on the porch waiting to
be affixed to my front railing, but, as of 5:10 PM today,
my bulbs are all planted.
Naturally, I did not
plan it this way. Some of the bulbs were ordered last
June and July so that I could reap the benefits of early
bird discounts offered by the catalog merchandisers.
Others were purchased on a whim sometime in the early
fall when I went to the garden center and succumbed
to temptation. I purchased a whole bag of Narcissus
‘Manly’ after a mid-fall lecture by a representative
of White Flower Farm. He was such a courtly individual
that I felt it would be positively churlish not to buy
some of the bulbs he mentioned in his presentation.
Besides, it was so nice of him to bring them all the
way from Litchfield, Connecticut. Many of the bulbs
in my garage arrived from various catalog vendors who
have my name on their e-mail lists and woo me regularly
with all kinds of incredible offers. Strangely enough
I often find it easier to give in to their blandishments
than to delete their e-mails. It’s the computer’s fault.
Anyway, no matter how
the hyacinths, crocuses, iris, tulips and daffodils
happened to come into my possession, they all spent
some time in the cool recesses of my garage. During
the fall whenever I had a few free minutes without deadlines,
committee meetings, chauffeuring duties or catbox obligations,
I would take myself out to the garden, dig a trench
and install some bulbs. This diminished but did not
eliminate the pile. Finally it got to be December, and
I made bulb planting a permanent item on my daily “to-do”
The problem was the other
fifty items on the list. Life, as everyone knows, is
complicated during the holiday season. There are parties
to attend, extensive lists to be made, cards to write,
gifts to buy, homemade goodies to make and consume.
There is the usual amount of holiday guilt, which is
a lot harder to bury than a mess of bulbs. By the time
I attended to all those things (especially the guilt)
every day, darkness had crept in, and the time to dig
holes in the back or front yard was past.
What finally motivated
me was that guilt, aided and abetted by the arrival
of some of the spring plant and seed catalogs. The minute
my eyes rested on a particularly delectable cover illustration,
a puritanical voice inside my head began admonishing
me about the evils of mooning over the latest cranesbill
while all those poor little Iris reticulata withered
in the cold garage. It was as heartrending as a sensitive
reading of A Christmas Carol.
I tried to avoid both
the guilt and the chore by telling myself that the remaining
bulbs were probably rotted, and would be better off
on the compost heap. Unfortunately the dutiful part
of my soul impelled me to go out and check the bulb
box. Out of about 100 leftover bulbs, only one appeared
to be even slightly rotted. The rest were still in peak
So, on December nineteenth,
two days before the Winter Solstice and about two months
after I should have been finished with bulb planting,
I went out of doors at 4:45 PM and began digging a large
trench at the far end of my back garden. The waning
minutes of twilight were giving way to the first minutes
of total blackness, but the outdoor lighting mounted
on the side of my house provided just enough illumination.
The soil was still loose and easy to dig, thanks to
the unseasonably balmy fall weather that we have had.
I dug a 4×3-foot trench that ended up being about 8-inches
deep. Then I took a bag of 15 narcissus and a bag of
15 ‘Carnival de Nice’ tulips and dumped them in, along
with 10 Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’. I knelt down on my handy
kneeler and arranged all of those large bulbs in what
I hope will be an interesting pattern, then covered
them with about 3-inches of soil. Then I took 30 little
Iris reticulata bulbs and about 50 mixed snow crocus
bulbs and dumped them into the partially filled trench.
I knelt down and arranged them, thinking about how much
I love Iris reticulata. Finally I covered the little
bulbs with the remaining soil, and raked a layer of
desiccated chopped leaves over the whole trench. The
entire operation took about 20 minutes and freed me
from guilt about everything for approximately the same
period of time.
Now I can see the old
year out without the fear of also seeing the ghosts
of bulb orders past. I can await the January arrival
of the African violets that I ordered secure in the
knowledge that I have not forfeited even a little bit
of spring color. I have celebrated the Winter Solstice
and cleansed my soul with my own little ritual. Let
the light return.