October 29, 2015

400 Down, 1200 to Go

There is an unwritten responsibility that one spouse is expected to be supportive of the other.  You’re supposed to see their point of view, offer them encouragement, and be their cheerleader.  If they come home one day and say, ‘I think we ought to move to Paris’, you should hear them out.
This week, I am exploring the limits of supportiveness, and at what point it becomes, well, enabling.  You see, I am now helping plant 1600 spring bulbs.
It all began back in the halcyon days of early September when all things were possible.  Betty sat down with bulb catalogs and a map of our property.  She read the breathless descriptions (“Poeticus Narcissi, traditionally known as the ‘Poet's Narcissi’, are fragrant favorites with very large, white perianths with small, dainty cups in contrasting colors. Great naturalizers from yesteryear!) that invariably conclude with the uplifting, “Narcissi are The Art & Soul of Spring.”
Our bulb order.  Double click
to see at full size
She would read me a description and show me a photo.  I would agree that I was looking at the most beautiful daffodil/hyacinth/allium ever bred.  She would say, “Wouldn’t that look great outside the kitchen window,” or “That would be perfect in the Magnolia bed,” and I would aver that she had chosen the ideal bulb for the perfect location.
Even after Betty tallied up her bulb ‘wish list’ and said, “You know, we’re looking at close to a thousand bulbs here,” I continued my reassurance that we were not overreaching. 
“We’ve got all autumn to plant the bulbs,” I said.  And promptly forgot about the whole thing.
We had duffelbags full
of bulbs
There is a point, though, where ‘being supportive’ becomes ‘enabling’.  Betty finished her bulb order and submitted it.  I know I crossed the line because, on October 20, three enormous boxes appeared in our driveway, accompanied by a few choice words from our UPS driver.  Each box weighed more than 60 pounds.  Inside were duffel bags full of bulbs, many of them doubles and triples.
As the whole world knows by now, we are installing a new landscape at a new house.  As such, it is reasonable that we are buying inordinate numbers of things like spring bulbs because, well, we have a lot of space to fill.  And, we’re filling those spaces in unusual ways. 
Here’s how it works: using a rake, Betty will sketch out an amoeba-shaped plot for bulbs.  My job is to remove the soil in that plot down to a depth of eight inches; leaving, of course, at least an addition inch of soil so that the bulbs have a ‘cushion’ for their roots to sink into.  After a top layer of mulch is pulled aside, I carefully shovel out the soil and place it in seven or eight large tubs, breaking up any clods I might encounter.
I removed the soil, Betty
planted the bulbs
Betty’s job is to place the bulbs, overspread about two inches of soil, add lime and fertilizer, and then refill the balance of the bed and re-place the mulch.  On a good afternoon, it will take about 90 minutes start-to-finish to excavate, plant, and re-fill a 100-bulb bed.
That assumes, of course, that there’s nothing to go through but soil. Back in May we paid a landscaping contractor to excavate out the ‘builder’s crud’ from our new home and replace it with high-quality loam.  ‘Builder’s crud’ is almost too kind a term: what we had on our property was a mixture of large and small rocks with just enough soil to disqualify our site as a quarry.
In a short-sighted effort to save a few dollars, I didn’t press the landscaper to dig as close as feasible to a retaining wall at the front of the lot.  Instead, I said, “Oh, six feet from the wall is fine.  We’re just going to plant some shrubs there.”  We left that particular strip of crud in place.
With the bulbs covered, it's
wait until spring!
As we began planting shrubs this summer, we realized that the area atop that retaining wall is our ‘welcome to the garden’ statement.  Each day brings hundreds of walkers, joggers, and cyclists by our house and the plants atop that wall are the first thing everyone sees.  We put considerable effort into making that area beautiful with an array of shrubs and perennials.  And now we have several hundred bulbs earmarked for that area.
If it takes 90 minutes to excavate and plant an area that is pure loam, how long does it take to excavate an area that is pure rock?
This eight-foot-long trench against
the retaining wall took four hours to
dig, yielded three cairns of rocks,
and was planted with 62 bulbs
On two afternoons I have devoted multiple hours to digging out a few pathetic feet of crud.  Just shoveling out the debris is arduous after which each shovelful has to be sifted for rocks, roots, metal rods, unexploded ordnance, and whatever else was deposited on the site.  As of this writing, there are something over 100 bulbs planted along the wall.  By the time it is completed, the number of hours consumed for that one area will be almost as much as that required for the rest of the property.
But there is unmistakable beauty in what we are doing.  Beginning in April, 200 crocus will begin blooming, to be followed quickly by nearly a thousand daffodils and then 400 muscari and hyacinths.  For six weeks, our property will be a riot of color and texture from those bulbs, after which the shrubs and perennials take over.
Sometimes, being supportive is accepting that your spouse’s vision is better than your own and, if it becomes ‘enabling’ then so be it.  Yes, there’s a lot of backbreaking work to execute that vision, but I have all winter for my back to recover.

(Undergardener's note: the last of the 1800 bulbs (don't ask) were planted on November 19)

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