It was a serious fumble. In bulb-planting terms, it was as close as I ever want to totter on the brink of disaster. Are we all in agreement that autumn bulb planting is akin to gambling? You continue ordering bulbs until suddenly the game shuts down. In a good year, the stakes aren’t shut down until mid-December. Last year, snow pulled the plug early. I was caught with a superfluity of bulbs and an embarrassing lack of open ground. Time to regroup.
Just to give you the back story here — Let me remind you about last autumn’s weather. Has anyone else noticed that gardeners have selective amnesia weatherwise? We complain a mean streak about what’s going on today, but erase long term memory. In last winter’s case, it was best left forgotten. But you might recall that, in fall — when we should have been burying bulbs with squirrel-like speed — we were flummoxed by early frosts and equally precocious snow.
So Plan B. With umpteen bags of bulbs and zero chance of open ground, I took the only course of action still available — I stuffed the bulbs into containers. It was such a raving success that the botch might become a tradition. Now we’re basking in the bounty.
The potted bulb recoup turned out to be just the ticket. One of my best friends is a renown gardener, but he’s now confined to a wheelchair which puts a crimp in his garden access. Especially in early spring, getting into the garden is pretty much impossible until the mud subsides and the wheelchair can maneuver without skidding. The potted bulbs saved the day.
So here’s how it worked: In autumn, when it seemed that all was lost, we (“we” being his gardener and I) planted the bulbs in my friend’s collection of outrageously handsome hand-thrown terra cotta containers. Then we threw them all into the cold frame (Did I say throw? You don’t toss around this caliber of terra cotta). The cold frames are cement-sided with tightly fitted glass lids. In other words, rodents had no access. And the contained bulbs were entombed by snow for the next four months solid. (I’m hoping that the snow load is not a deal maker/breaker because hopefully a perma-solid white blanket of that magnitude and depth is unlikely to happen again.) No watering was necessary. I confess that I worried about the pots cracking, but because they didn’t freeze and thaw, they fared just fine. (Anybody else have thoughts/experience on this?) It wasn’t really forcing because the bulbs didn’t open any earlier than their brethren in the garden. But they delivered spring in a different package.
What could have been a tragedy turned into a victory of proportions that I would never dare predict. My friend is (figuratively) carrying me on his shoulders. The season was delivered to his back porch where he can bask in its brilliance. In practical terms, this is a frugal means of getting a bulb rush. With just 10 bulbs of each variety, these containers look like a million. And they’re conveniently portable. When that inevitable spring thunderstorm whips up, they can be whisked inside (okay, the massive pot with 50 Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’ might take two strong men to do the whisking, but still…). When the sun starts to bake, they can be rushed into the shade to extend the show. The only caveat being that the flowers don’t fully open except when the sun is shining. But really, ‘Mickey Mouse’ (which was everyone’s favorite, hands down) looks just as good when the buds aren’t flared.
No rodent bulb pillage. No deer damage. Just poetry delivered to your back porch. What’s not to like?