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” list.
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 condition.
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.