Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blooms are the reward for patience

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel January 20, 2008)

Sweet! That's how the narcissus growing on my porch smell.

Whenever I pass through the screened room, a whiff of scented air catches me by surprise. It's the springtime of my past -- Cape Cod Aprils and Mays where cheery daffodils and colorful crocuses blossom in lawns still spotted with snow. The fragrant blooms trigger fond memories of people and places long unseen.

Growing bulbs indoors is like that. It's a way to bridge the difference between yesterday and tomorrow.

As horticultural endeavors go, forcing bulbs is straightforward, but it does take time. It's a practice of delayed gratification that involves planning and forethought. Bulbs must be ordered or purchased by early autumn and stored in a cool spot for several weeks before blooming can commence. That alone has always dampened my enthusiasm. I'm an immediate gratification person -- the type store managers hope will impulsively place a pot of blooming bulbs in the shopping cart alongside groceries.

But not this year. This year I made it happen by default.

In November, when my oldest son returned from a trip to see his grandmother in Seattle, he brought back a small bag of assorted bulbs.

My husband's mother is an amazing gardener. At age 90, she still lives on her own in a home surrounded by gorgeous gardens. In the summer, under her attentive care, flowerbeds overflowing with roses, gladioluses, dahlias, fuchsias, sweet white alyssum and beautiful blue lobelias burst into bloom. Not one to be content with summer-only gardening, in the winter Mary fills the inside of her house with flowers too. An assortment of forced bulbs sit on her windowsills as a sweet reminder that springtime is just around the corner.

As much as I love and admire my mother-in-law, when Timmy came home with Grandma's gift for me, I wasn't exactly filled with excitement. My immediate thought was one of regret.

"Now how am I supposed to do this?" I wondered. I always feel inadequate with gardening methods that involve detailed preparations.

But this time, instead of fretting or procrastinating -- OK, I did procrastinate for about a week -- I set about doing what needed to be done. I unwrapped the package and placed the bulbs in several flowerpots filled with small stones and pieces of sea glass.

Although bulbs are usually refrigerated for a couple weeks after being potted up, I decided to forgo that step and place them on the porch where the air is somewhat cooler than the house.

My decision to skip the chilling phase was inspired by a pot of daffodil bulbs that I never got around to removing after they bloomed last winter. The daffodils were another gift -- this time from my Massachusetts-based daughter, Jenny, who gave them to me early last autumn during one of her visits home. Jenny's bulbs flourished in our Florida winter, but when winter was over, I neglected to de-pot the spent blooms.

No matter, they sprouted again anyway.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a mass of green stems easing their way out of last year's bulbs. And, while none have yet flowered, they've been the perfect excuse to be lazy about refrigerating my new crop of narcissus-to-be's.

I guess it worked because, as of today, two of the narcissus have produced multiple white flowers, and several other buds are swelling with the potential of fragrance to come.

While not proud of my laziness when it comes to gardening, I admit to having limitations. How lovely it is, then, to discover that sometimes limitations can be lifted. The blooms that fill my porch with a memory-triggering sweetness prove that force is not the only means of achieving positive results. Rules are to question, and discoveries sometimes result from the most haphazard methods.

I doubt if this experience is going to make me an overnight advocate of multi-step gardening -- my needs for immediate gratification are too deeply ingrained for that. But my recent success with spring bulbs has been encouraging.

The sweet scent of long-ago Aprils and Mays is ample reward for the minimal effort involved in growing this year's crop of cheery flowers. With this experiment under my belt, I look forward to less laborious garden adventures for many seasons to come.

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