My sister-in-law Ann asked if I plan to plant bulbs this fall.
The pandemic inspired me to amp up the backyard gardener in me, bravely planting two large raised vegetable and herb beds outside my kitchen in deer country. The results were mixed: tons of cucumbers and tomatoes, yet only enough eggplants to make one decent pan of eggplant parmesan.
A case of Lyme disease that wiped me out, and the drought didn’t help. When one of my sisters saw the garden for the first time in late August, she asked if I had a watering system.
“Yeah, me and the hose,” I said. Fortunately, we were around most of the summer, giving me the time to fuss over the garden and keep an eye on pests. Still, I never got any of the cabbage or broccoli I planted because it was devoured by insects early in the game.
That’s one of the reasons I don’t take gardening seriously or have any intention of planting bulbs: I don’t have the patience, and am all about instant gratification. Planting bulbs involves a huge measure of trust and the grace to patiently wait for blooms in spring.
I’ve never been terribly good in the waiting department, am easily discouraged, deplore doing things twice or feeling like I’m wasting my time. Just the thought of tunneling animals eating or tearing up bulbs is enough to snuff out any desire to plant bulbs, but I admire people who do.
My friend Barbara cultivates dahlias and sells some of them in front of some of the shops lining our quaint New England downtown. Her blooms are spectacular, ranging from dainty miniatures to dinner plate blossoms close to a foot wide.
But she’s got to wait almost the whole summer for her dahlias to bloom, knowing they’ll vanish with the first frost. I’m in awe of her skill and dedication, but I’m not sure I could do that. As I said, waiting isn’t one of my strong suits.
Inspired by a local dahlia farmer with 600 plants, Barbara fell in love with the flower about five years ago. This year, she planted 60 dahlias in her sunny side yard next to a plot of zinnias and cosmos. Looking at her colorful dahlia garden, it’s hard to choose a favorite.
Yet dahlias seem like an awful lot of work to me, requiring even more attention than roses. There’s the staking and supports, and the need to dig up the tubers every fall lest they fall victim to frost and headed for the compost heap.
Which leads me to the following conclusion:
In the world of gardeners, there are those who plant dahlias and those who don’t. To test my theory, I asked a few veteran gardeners if they plant dahlias and they said, “No! Too much work.” I admit I felt a little validated and slightly less lazy.
Dahlia growers fall into the category of serious gardeners who spend the bulk of the winter poring over seed catalogs, plotting out their gardens and then pulling out the seed trays in March to get the ball rolling.
And then there’s the rest of us, those who buy plants at garden centers and plant them nilly willy in hopes of some semblance of order or cohesion. We’re always slightly unsure about our gardening knowledge, wondering when it’s OK to cut back hydrangeas (spring) or how to properly prune rose bushes.
We’re the ones buying hanging baskets of petunias and snipping off the plastic hangers to plunk them in our front planters We’re also the ones who hail the arrival of morning glories, wondering how they ended up in our gardens.
Though purists might view morning glories as unwelcome intruders and tear them out – they are, after all, categorized as invasive weeds – I love them. They’ve overtaken a corner of my back garden, covering a beach rose bush given to me by a good friend several years ago.
I don’t remember planting morning glories, though I may have dropped some seeds several years ago when the kids were little and I was in a perpetual fog. But my patch of magenta morning glories is an unexpected delight, mainly because they’re pretty, require no care, appeared out of nowhere and are still going strong in mid-October.
To me, they’re perfect: free, pretty and requiring absolutely no care. I’ll take that any day of the week.