As the doctor stole nearer to Mary’s bed…he discovered the two sturdy little green heads pushing themselves above the brown earth….
‘I wonder if they-feel it so hard-to struggle up-as I,’ said Mary.
The doctor came close and bent over the pot. A small electric bedside light, shaded from Mary’s eyes, focused its rays on the two little green heads.
‘They’re not struggling at all. Nature’s gently pushing them up. When she’s ready–she’ll push you.’
Foursquare, Grace S. Richmond, pg. 197 (a little bit altered by me)
It’s been raining a lot lately. Today, it even snowed.
I believe we should always be grateful for rain. Water is wealth, and safety from fires, and no plant grows without at least some of its quenching force.
But I have to admit grey day after grey day is getting me down. So one rainy day lately, I picked up an old book I have around the house, and in it I found this passage about a pot of two tulips by a sickbed. I thought: I’d like a pot of tulips in my own house. Just to remind me that spring is coming.
I didn’t think I could actually have one, though. I like bulbs in big pots at least 18 inches (about 48 cm) across. Unless they’re my precious antique tulip bulbs, each of which gets its own pot.
And then there’s the unsavory fact that I’ve never successfully forced a bulb. My hyacinths linger in the cupboard under the sink in their bulb glasses, sulkily spouting a few fitful half-submerged stubby blooms, or simply rotting. My carefully-cultured indoor narcissus bloom – about the same time the ones outdoors do. Sometimes later.
So I’d kind of given up on the idea of bulbs indoors. And that wasn’t what was in my mind as I went to my outdoor bulb pots, poking around to see what was up, and what looked as if it were going to flower this year.
But there, completely forgotten by me, was a plain black plastic pot I’d planted with four leftover ‘Golden Melody’ tulips, the ones that didn’t fit in the big pots. Even though I’d bought a hundred of them, I wasn’t going to throw them away-and in my neighborhood, planting in the ground constitutes throwing them away. If rot doesn’t get them, usually the gophers do. Tulip bulbs are like hot french fries for gophers.
Four tulip noses* were poking out just above the soil, sampling their first breath of spring air. I picked up the pot. It was just the size to try indoors, and I could put it in one of my ceramic cachepots. That is, I could do that if they hadn’t all chipped from being left out in the big freeze last December.
They hadn’t. I found a gold-yellow one, and put it on my kitchen table with the tulips in.
In the next week, I found out what a pleasure it is to really watch bulbs grow close up. I’d thought I was doing that outside; when bulbs are going, I check them at least every few days to see how they’re evolving. I kneel on the ground. I look at them from different angles. And when I photograph them, I find myself looking at them in even more ways.
But nothing beats living a few feet away from a growing bulbs. First, their shoots came up with astonishing rapidity; in a few days, they were inches taller than their kindred, out in the cold. I got to watch the whole show, the unfurling of the tight nose into a cylinder of leaves
which opens out to allow the green bud to slowly rise on its stalk. Its lips get tinged with color and then they part, letting out the petals in an explosion of yellow, the exact same yellow as the trumpets of my ‘Dutch Master’ daffodils, blooming outside by the door.
One tepal** even did that delightful and typical tulip thing: it sported into exuberant green feathering.
Tulips seem to enjoy changing themselves; if you grow them long enough, you will see one tulip out of a batch breaking away from the others with its own variation of colors and patterns. They have the verve of individualism. They’re not afraid to try something new.
Each day I look at my pot of tulips in yellow flower, thrusting up on sturdy stems unlike the weak, staked ones from the florist. I see them blooming in a place no tulip ever thought to grow. I look at them and see the history of a Mediterranean wildflower that was stolen by northerners and introduced into eugenic breeding programs, its looks changed out of all recognition over the centuries, until a small part of its descendants came to me in a box that crossed an ocean and a continent.
I look at them and I think: yes. Spring will come.
*OK, confession time: the photo is not of that particular pot. Those of you who count will have noticed that. They’re other tulip noses I photographed that day.
**Tepals are a name for petals and sepals which look the same. Three of the tulip’s “petals” are actually sepals, while three are true petals. The layer of sepals is outside the layer of petals, and in many flowers the sepals are green and of a different texture from the petals. But in some flowers, like tulips, the sepals morph into a form so like the petals that it’s hard to tell them apart. I learned this in horticulture class so I just had to put it somewhere. I never cease to be amazed at how plants tweak themselves into so many colors and shapes.