February 25, 2013

Faith-based Gardening

The small box arrived in the mail from White Flower Farm in early December.  In the box was a large, dull bulb in a pot, hidden by a small pad of Spanish moss.  The instructions said to place the pot in a sunny window, keep it watered, and wait.

Amaryllis 'Red
We waited through Christmas and the New Year; the bulb did nothing.  It wasn’t until the end of January that a green nodule peeked up a quarter inch.  It was a leaf.  Then, a fatter nodule began to emerge.  A flower stalk.  More weeks followed.

Finally, the last week of February – twelve weeks after the bulb arrived – we were rewarded for our patience.  Amaryllis ‘Red Peacock’ opened its first flower: a huge, double scarlet bloom with a thin white accent line running down the middle of each petal.  The red is so startling that it is visible from across a room.  And, wonder of wonders, what has bloomed thus far is just the beginning of a show that will go on for weeks.  Four more flowers are just beginning to open on one stalk, and a second stalk is just now rising out of the bulb.

When we garden, we take a leap of faith that, sometimes, waiting is the right thing to do.  We could have purchased a red amaryllis, already in flower, from a store; but that’s not gardening.  The pleasure is in seeing what comes from our efforts.  Everything else is just ‘accessorizing with plants’.

Just as ‘Red Peacock’ was opening its first flower, a truck came down our driveway bearing a large box of seeds from Johnny’s of Maine.  It is not yet March yet we are already taking the first of a series of leaps of faith that we believe will lead to a summer’s worth of vegetables.  This first leap is just an economic one: we have paid for some seeds. 

The vegetable garden in April.  Will
May showers wash it away?
Those leaps will get higher and harder as time goes on.  We will plant in May having no guarantees that we won’t encounter a Memorial Day frost, or that we will not have a re-run of a few years ago when it rained incessantly in June, washing out our first vegetable crop.

We garden by experience.  We sense that this season will start earlier (or later) and that this week – whatever week that is – is the right one to put those seeds in the ground.  We can eliminate much of the risk by starting seeds indoors (or purchasing them as plant sets).  Sometimes, as with tomatoes, the length of the growing season virtually demands that we dispense with starting with seeds in the ground.  But, on the whole, we play the odds.  At heart, gardeners are gamblers.

Pots of hyacinths become a table
We are also savers.  When ‘Red Peacock’ has strutted its last bloom, we will follow a different set of instructions and store the bulb in our basement.  It will take at least a year, and it may take several, but we will try to coax a new set of blooms out of the bulb.

Many years ago, my wife told me that buying roses for Valentine’s Day was a waste of money.  I asked what she would rather have.  “Hyacinths,” she said.  And so, for a dozen years, I have brought home pots of blue hyacinths.  For a week or longer, they fill the house with perfume.  When they become ungainly, they’re cut and placed in a vase where they provide further enjoyment.
...and the bulb are planted to provide
years of continued enjoyment.

But in the spring, those hyacinth bulbs get planted in our garden.  A year later (sometimes two), the hyacinths bloom again, and again.  After a dozen years, we have a bed that has a startling number of blue hyacinths in it.  Visitors look at the bed and see a pleasing array of flowers.  I look at it and see memories of Valentine’s Days past – and leaps of faith taken.

1 comment:

  1. And chances are I wrote the WFF copy that enticed you to order that amaryllis (: I can only admire them from afar because of my allergies.

    Very nice posting, Neal.