Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bulb planting season

When I was 8, the age Emily is now, my best friend took me one weekend in April to visit her grandparents' farm in southern Kentucky. It was a rainy trip, so I was not terribly pleased when Conley's grandmother, Beans, helped us suit up into rain jackets and boots to go for a walk in the woods (I was a bit of a lazy child then). We got to the woodland, walked a short distance in the grey gloom, and suddenly the woodland seemed lit up from below with the golden haze of daffodils. We filled buckets with them, and when we were done, the daffodil patch looked just as brilliant as before. I was transformed, though, as well. I have never thought of rainy spring gloom the same way.
Today in Pittsburgh it is hot and sunny. I spent my morning at a Garden club meeting, and at lunch, outside on an Allegheny River island, I could hardly believe I'd donned a fleece for the first 15 minutes of my bike ride there. But I am now thinking of cold spring rains, because my father in law sent us 3 bags fulls of naked ladies.

My father-in-law is not a pervert. They're bulbs. (photo from Arkansas Cooperative Extension)

Naked ladies, known in polite circles as surprise lilies, bloom in August, not April. But their leaves preceed them, lush, strappy and green in April and May, while the daffodils are putting on their year's show. Their strategy is the same: come up and photosynthesize before the trees make shade, when those cool rainy days keep the ground wet and the competition isn't so fierce for water.

When I got home from the Garden Club meeting, I was hot and sweaty. What better moment to do a little digging? I got out my gloves and trowel, and dug holes in the hard clay of a dry day in late summer, imagining past the coming winter into the lengthening days of cool, damp April, and beyond into the pink, leafless lilies of next summer.

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