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I feel a special satisfaction looking at these snow-capped pots of bulbs. Not only did I get all my bulbs in before it snowed; I also got them all fertilized, old and new. My bulbs are nicely tucked up under their coverlets.

How did it happen that I, practiced procrastinator and taker-on of too many projects that are left undone, burier of bulbs in freezing rain and snow – how did it happen that I did this in perfect timing?

I think it had to do with listening. It’s something every gardener, naturalist, or farmer comes to learn: listening to that quiet inner voice that says: do this now.

This year I actually did that. I listened to the voice that said, no matter what my desires, a small bulb order was the best thing for this year. So I got what (for me) amounts to a modest fall bulb order: 150 tulips, 10 fritillaries, 10 iris bucharica. Bulbs are incredibly beautiful, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that they aren’t work to plant.

Maybe it’s the way they say birth-labor is: once you see the beautiful results, you forget all that went before. But this year I remembered that when I buy hundreds of bulbs, it isn’t just more beauty: it’s also more pots, more potting soil, more amendments. And more planting time.

So this year, I remembered to get a smaller amount of bulbs (especially since I was ordering late in the year). And I did all the other work in small increments. I bought the soil one day and name tags one day, bought pots another. I thought about where everything would go: some of my early gregii tulip bulbs got put in the top of pots already filled with late tulips. (If you’re interested in more details, check out my succession planting posts.) By the time the gregii tulips are ungracefully fading, the bigger parrot and lily tulips will overshadowing their dying foliage (hopefully not enough to keep it from getting the sun it needs to make gregii bulbs for next year).

And then, when the weather and the day gave me hints, I planted, not all at once, but in small amounts; pouring in soil and amending it here, tucking in fritillaries with sages there, adding the early bulbs to the tops of old bulbs two or three pots at a time. I never worked more than ten to twenty minutes at once, and unlike other years, I wound up planting when it was actually comfortable to be outside and my hands didn’t freeze.

It’s got me wondering about the frenetic activity of former years. What would have happened if I’d listened to all those hints from wind, weather, moon, sun and experience before, instead of insisting on the big rush with the biggest possible amount of bulbs?

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • catmint December 8, 2009, 2:26 am

    Dear Pomona, yes – listening, and feeling: being in touch with nature – knowing when it’s going to rain or snow and I guess how our needs intersect with our garden’s needs. That changes over time. Wow! What a complicated and fascinating subject you have raised in this post. Hope you are feeling better. Cheers, catmint

  • Town Mouse December 8, 2009, 8:48 am

    Good job! This is so true with the garden and in life. Sometimes I find myself rushing and pushing, and then it was all not really necessary and I should have listened instead.

  • Daffodil Planter December 8, 2009, 8:52 am

    What valuable commentary. I tend to look at gardening tasks as four-hour chunks, not those extremely pleasant 20-minute outdoor vacations.

  • Cheryl December 8, 2009, 9:31 am

    Listening I did, reacting…I was too slow on the uptake. The freeze got the best of my garden last week and I only wish I’d
    planted potted bulbs to have something to look forward too before spring. Can’t wait to see the products of your labor!

  • Gail December 8, 2009, 3:42 pm

    It’s good to get tasks finished, but it feels equally good to know you listened to your inner voice. gail

  • Pomona Belvedere December 8, 2009, 7:14 pm

    What wise responses! Sounds as if any one of you could have written this post.

  • susan morrison (garden-chick) December 9, 2009, 11:46 am

    Impressive! Afraid I’m the opposite, as I’m more of a “be in” the garden rather than a “work in” the garden kinda person, so I prefer long chunks of work on an infrequent basis. But I managed to plant bulbs this year for the first time in probably 10 years. My amount was quite modest compared to yours (around 50) and I followed my usual survival-of-the-fittest, slapdash planting strategy, but I share you feeling of accomplishment that the job is done!

  • lostlandscape(James) December 9, 2009, 9:10 pm

    Snow on the pots–I see winter bulb-chilling happening before my very eyes. A much more civilized way of doing it than stashing bulbs in the fridge for a few weeks. Another reason I see for not buying a hundred of anything: It leaves space for more variety. I know you’re a curious gardener, and I could see that that would be much more satisfying.

  • Frances December 10, 2009, 2:03 pm

    Hooray for your pots ‘o bulbs, Pomona! A hearty congratulations and pat on the back. Doing it as you describe, a little at a time seems so enjoyable. We are more of the marathon planting, in the ground. I will be interested in your Iris b. I ordered the Iris dardanus after salivating over them every year. We need more iris, and yes more tulips of course. :-)

  • Pomona Belvedere December 11, 2009, 2:26 pm

    Frances, I’ve been salivating over Iris dardanus every year, too. I look forward to seeing yours in photos, perhaps that will knock me over the edge. I’ll remember to report on I. bucharica, I’m curious about them too. Until this year had somehow overlooked the fact that they’re also fragrant, always a big plus for me.

  • ryan December 13, 2009, 1:46 pm

    Nice work. My inner voice has been hassling me to get stuff done for several weeks, and actually the bulbs were part of all the work that started a stress twitch under my eye, darn them. I got all the bulbs I needed into the ground on Thursday, except a some big bags for one job where I’m waiting on a contractor to finish her work, which isn’t at all on my head. Of course, i don’t have snow as a deadline. The rain stops work for a little while, then the soil dries up enough to get me working again. Anyways, I know that feeling of satisfaction at having the bulbs in the ground, ready to do their thing next year.

  • Noelle (azplantlady) December 14, 2009, 11:36 am

    Hello Pomona,

    Thank you for leaving a comment on my last post. I enjoyed your blog. We do not grow bulbs here in the desert too often, because we have to chill them in the refrigerator for part of the year. I do love them and look forward to seeing your spring display. I agree with you, I tend to buy too much and then regret it when I have added to my work load in the garden :0)

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