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Green Acre #173: Bulbs-a-poppin’

The garden’s winter secret: a flat of pansies hiding a whole platoon of tulip bulbs waiting for their spring break. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

TEN YEARS AGO my heart was ripped out of my chest and flopped on a steel tray for a little emergency repair. And, dammit, I hadn’t yet planted my tulips.

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It was just about two weeks before my birthday, which was celebrated as a resurrection party. I sat in the big black wing chair, moved into a corner of the dining room for the occasion, and held court. Baby put together a Mexican feast with a tank of margaritas for maybe 30 guests who actually seemed relieved that I hadn’t passed on. How heartwarming it was. 

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As a result, the bulbs didn’t go in until Thanksgiving, which is also the best time to fertilize hydrangeas (fertilize again at Easter for summer flowers; easy to remember, yes?), though that is neither here nor there.

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Lollygagging with the bulbs is not a problem (though the bulbs had been bought before Labor Day and the Prince kept sticking the bag, with a sign saying “Plant Me,” under my nose). They can even go in after frost, if you’ve really dragged your feet. It’s harder, of course, carving through the cold, hard ground. But they will come up and do what they do in a timely fashion as expected. 

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I hate planting bulbs, though I love the spring display. This year I’m called upon to do it twice. There were several hundred planted in Raleigh, North Carolina, a few weeks ago for Baby, who is pregnant with my first grandchild and is close enough to her due date that she has something of an excuse for leaning upon my arthritic bones for help.

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This year my own back yard will have pink and purple tulips again, a combo I never grow tired of. (But then I’ll see red ones and go OH. Well. The same thing happens with geraniums. But that is also neither here nor there). 

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Anyway. I didn’t go nuts with the bulbs for a change. Usually I buy a few hundred. This year I got only 50, sticking six in each of four big pots and topping them with pansies.  The rest of them are scattered about in the most naked spots. Thirty purple allium, planted last fall, should come up in a far corner where I can see them from the kitchen window. Alliums make me happy, with their popsicle heads bobbing about. 

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But first the tropical plants had to be uprooted or their pots moved to make way, always an ambitious effort. Thankfully, the garden is small so it just takes a single wildly energetic afternoon with a lot of dirt tossed around. I’m leaving some of the elephant ears in place; they’ll make it or not. Others were pulled, their leaves lopped off, and will be set to rest along with the cannas in a pot under a table. No special care needed, I’ve found. Come spring, pop them back in the garden.

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The parlor palms go in the living room, and a massive schefflera winters in the dining room, but the rest must be moved upstairs to the second-floor sunroom, which gets, you know, sun. This requires Princely effort as some have grown to a size  more suitable for the Botanic Garden than a petite 10-by-10-foot conservatory (which I call it with maximum pretension). This was supposed to have been enlarged by this winter but . . . let’s not go there.

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The white bird of paradise is bent over at the ceiling. It was one of those ill-advised I want it purchases of a few years past. I didn’t bother to read up on it until I had it home and then found out it can grow to 30 feet. It also hasn’t flowered, so you have to trust me when I say that when it finally does it will be spectacular. 

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I didn’t have much of anything to do with the moving project. Instead, I pretended sudden urgent unspecified business and flew out the door with a vague promise of return, leaving My Prince to move the plants in and up by himself.

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While I always fear that one of these years I’ll come home to find his carcass splayed out on top of the jasmines, yet again he managed without breaking a pot—or his neck. What a man. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” promises to put her heart into planting, not onto a steel tray, this season.

 



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