I’ve been out cleaning up the garden. Seems like it’s been raining for weeks, and there’s been no killing frost. Even as leaves fall from the deciduous trees, flowers still bloom: cosmos, violas, blackeyed susans, chrysanthemums. That is about to change as the remnants of Typhoon Nuri push arctic air southward. In some places, temperatures are expected to drop to 30 degrees below normal.
One of my fall garden tasks is planting bulbs. A yard-saling neighbor who knows of my garden obsession left a book on my porch: The Complete Book of Bulbs published by the American Garden Guild and Doubleday in 1951. It is amply illustrated with color and black and white photos, as well as some very nice pen and ink drawings. When I studied the drawings, a light bulb lit up in my head–now I know why we plant bulbs in the fall! They need time to grow roots. This explains why I sometimes see little crocus nubbins in winter, and why the bulbs I pot up for forcing do so badly in the house. It’s all about what happens underground.
I ordered bulbs from John Scheepers, as I do every year. They arrived in October. Most of them went into pots of soil which I watered then buried under the plastic garden tunnel and covered with straw. Garlic and onions are also bulbs. I sent for organic ‘Turkish Giant’ garlic from Territorial Seed. To plant, I broke apart the cloves and pushed them into prepared soil (well-drained, in a sunny spot, with plenty of compost added) then covered with an inch or two of dirt and a layer of well-rotted straw. And chicken wire to keep the feathered menaces from tearing it all up. The last few weeks of mild weather should have been perfect for starting garlic root systems which will take off when the warmth of spring hits them.
In a world that is scary (pestilence, wars, climate change, etc.) and moving crazy-fast (technology, energy consumption, etc.), gardening is an act of faith. You plant things, you wait for them to grow. You hope that the earth stays on its axis so that spring will come. You hope you and everyone you care about are alive to witness it. The reward is green life that comes after big cold and snow. And the blossoms that persist when spring weather hits a speed bump. The reward is cooking with a bulb of last year’s garlic, stored in a mesh bag in the pantry. The reward is your hands in dirt that you have reclaimed from a dismal weed patch by digging, sifting, building. Things grow–that’s what we do. Now that I know bulbs and seeds and roots are doing their work underground, I am ready for the big cold. In a few weeks I will bring in a pot of bulbs and let them warm up inside so that there will be flowers at the turn of the year.
Maybe there will be snow.
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