November 1, 2016

Dig the Holes and Pass the Ibuprofen

Readers of this blog may remember that last year at this time, I was ruing my decision to be wildly enthusiastic about the spring bulbs my wife showed me in various catalogs.  The result of my praise of her esthetic sense was to witness the delivery of what turned out to be 1800 bulbs, primarily hyacinths and daffodils.  All had to be planted within a narrow time window.  Much ibuprofen was consumed in the process.
Yes, the hyacinth border was
beautiful, but too short.
Most people would assume that 1800 bulbs would be sufficient to make a garden beautiful for years to come.  My wife is not ‘most people’.  Betty carefully observed and made notes as those bulbs made their appearance this spring.  The hyacinth border along the driveway covered just half its length.  A planned ‘river’ of geraniums and hyacinths was just fifteen feet long.  Entire areas of the front of our garden contained nary a spring bloom.  Our back garden had just a few pods of daffodils.
And so Betty made a new spring bulb list.  Because it mostly was just ‘small bulbs’, she did not offer me the same level of consultation (last year, to her credit, she said at one point, “You know, this is getting to be a pretty big bulb order.”).  This year she, well, just placed the order.
While the boxes were a
little smaller, we still had
duffel bags full of bulbs
Last year, I was greeted in my driveway in late October by three enormous crates of bulbs and a UPS driver swearing vengeance against my entire family tree.  This year, just two, somewhat smaller boxes arrived.  How many bulbs could possibly be in them?
It was exactly 1650 bulbs.
Betty offered me this solace: “All you have to do is dig the holes.  I have to plant them.”
Now the hyacinth border
is being extended
to the street.
Which, factually is exactly the case.  Except that “digging the holes” means removing the mulch from an area that might be six or eight square feet.  The mulch goes into a container.  Then I excavate all of the soil from that area to a specified depth.  The soil goes into additional containers (so as not to risk mixing soil and mulch), after which I break up the soil for better aeration and remove rocks.  And kill any grubs.  And rescue any earthworms.  And then ensure that there is nice, loose soil at the bottom of the hole which the bulb can snuggle into.  Each area can easily take an hour.
These daffodils needed to be
planted 8".  It's just as much
effort to dig down 5".
Betty offered more soothing words.  “They’re all small bulbs,” she said.  “They can be planted more tightly than the last ones,” she averred.  “None of these have to be planted eight inches deep like the daffodils.”
Those, too, are true statements.  Or, at least true as far as the statement went.  No, the new crop of bulbs did not have to be planted to a depth of eight inches.  ‘Just’ five inches.  What percent of the effort is required to dig out a section of the garden to five inches?  Almost exactly as much as eight inches.  You can take my word for it.  Further, because the garden was new last year, much of the digging was through virgin, never-planted areas.  This year, many of the new bulb pods wrap around now-established shrubs and perennials. 
The geranium and hyacinth
'river' will now stretch 30'
All of that said, 1,350 bulbs have been planted during the past two weeks.  There is a long, serpentine sweep of hyacinths above a rock wall that should look splendid next spring.  That river of geraniums and hyacinths is now 30 feet long with twin trenches of a special white-capped blue hyacinth.  The driveway border now sweeps 75 feet down to the street and some leftover bulbs have colonized the perennial border on the other side of the driveway.  Three pods of an unusual, native ‘nodding onion’ will now grace a sunny area adjacent to our ‘Burgundy Hearts’ redbud.  And, from the kitchen window will be visible a long sweep of still more hyacinths in the rear garden.

These are the ipheion flowers
we'll see next spring
Where will those last three hundred bulbs go?  They’re scilla and ipheion (which only need to be planted three inches deep!), and Betty plans to walk the property today to determine where they’ll make the highest impact.  The impressive part is that she’ll actually find an area that doesn’t already have bulbs planted under it.  The even more impressive part is that my kidneys will still function after taking all that ibuprofen.

1 comment:

  1. I feel your pain! But this year, I planted no bulbs. So far.