If we couldn’t have trees, we would have daffodils. Like dieters craving an extra helping of dessert, we longed for a bright spot in the garden, even if it meant waiting till spring.
So I placed an order for daffodils. Not by the bag, mind you. That would be too prudent. No, we ordered them by the bushel. Hundreds. After all, I had nothing else to do. It was that Bear of Very Little Brain thing again.
No question about where I would plant the daffodils How I would plant them was another story. You see, there was no soil where they were going. This new, treeless part of the yard, once dark woods we rarely entered, is not really land as one visualizes, say, neatly tilled farmland.
It is a mat of wetlands and dredge spoils, a lumpy mix of half-decayed logs and pottery clay, all woven together by a network of fine but tough roots. After the storm it was an adventure to navigate, an ankle-breaker and a knee-twister.
I should also mention the vein of peat that runs through it like a river. Dry and crusty in summer. Kind of like death eating a cracker and then grinning when we offer water.
Once we tried to plant azaleas for spring color deep in the dark woods. We coddled them. They whined and sulked. Then they up and died.
The trees, which had stolen the water from the azaleas, had no sympathy for these complaining wimps. No one had coddled them. Their seeds had drifted in
by winds or wings of birds. They hit the ground and lived or died. They toughed out the soil: loblolly pines, sweet gum, red maple, swamp red bay, Hercules club, hophornbeam, and ironwood. They grew up together for three decades, scrappy and sturdy, until they were routed out in a day.
Where did I ever get the idea that we could plant bulbs here? Blame Isabel, I said.
Bulbs would be different, wouldn’t they? They wouldn’t be as demanding as, say, azaleas. Of course not. Confidently I planted, forever I planted. When I wasn’t planting I was counting how many bulbs there were left to plant.
If I found a patch of real soil clear of roots, I cheered and dug wide holes and massed several bulbs in one sweep. Since I was not so good at simple subtraction, I immediately did a full recount.
Mostly it was slow going, chopping out roots and shoehorning bulbs into the skimpiest of holes. Poor dears, I do hope your petticoats emerge fine and ruffled come spring.
Daffodils were made for gardeners like me. They find their own way, a horticulturist once told me. If you plant ’em too deep (never my sin), the mother bulb will produce offsets closer to the soil surface.
If you plant ’em too shallow (more my style), new roots will pull bulbs down to whatever soil level is comfortable for a daffodil, he added. Visions of sloth danced before my eyes. I could throw my trowel away. All I had to do was chicken-scratch the soil, toss in the bulbs and sprinkle on some mulch.
Fat chance. But my uncontrolled garden experiments had proven his theory. Transplanting plants is a hobby of mine. Whenever I dig, I slice into wonderful, healthy bulbs eight or ten inches below ground. Trust me, I never planted them that deep.
Enough digressing. Back to the task at hand. Curiouser and curiouser. Every so often a bulb would disappear. I’d hack out a scant hole between stubborn old roots, wedge a bulb in, and it would be. . . . . Gone! Spiraled into some never-never land deep below, not to be retrieved.
Oh dear, have I found the rabbit-hole? Are my bulbs racing after Alice? Am I digging in the Queen’s strange croquet ground, all ridges and furrows? High time
for lunch, I say, before the Queen shouts “Off With Her Head!” and I lose my count.
(Confidential from Alice: She saw the bulbs slide through holes in the hodgepodge and land directly in the water beneath. She says we shouldn’t worry, she is fine and dry.)