Outside, I notice that the neighbors are surveying me again; only today they are a little less discreet, a bit shorter, and a lot fuzzier. In the last day or so, the local farmer has moved a flock of grubby-white sheep into the field beside us. So when I meander outside and I’m noticed, they freeze to the spot, becoming a row of black faces peering across the fence at me, probably wondering whether my Sat Nav screwed up with the directions again, and I think I’m actually on the moon.
With my captivated audience in attendance, I begin to get going on my weekly jobs feeling quite chuffed with myself that I’m prepared, because today as scheduled, is the day for planting my bulbs and those purple bedding plants, which I bought last week.
I even have an assistant, as all great gardeners on the television programmes do. Not that he’s likely to be as helpful as Charlie Dimmock used to be to Alan Titchmarsh on Ground Force. Nevertheless, I enjoy the company of Fidget, our fluffy ginger cat, even if he has only joined me through his intrigue to see what has brought me outdoors and into his territory.
Today, I’m in the zone. I’ve been looking forward to this, and once my frosty bones begin to defrost, it feels great to be outdoors. To start, I drag the bag of compost (my weight training for the day) to the staging area where the bulb planting is to take place, and collect up those empty pots from the patio that I intend to plant in. Whilst there, I drain the plastic flower pots that have become sodden with rainfall, the flowers and weeds wilting in the overflow.
And here is probably a good time for me to offer you a really useful gardening tip: If you ever buy a plastic pot to plant flowers in that requires you to drill holes in the bottom, allowing water to drain through it, then drill the holes. Otherwise, like me, you will have flowers drowning in green tinged puddles of water, whose smell is disgustingly pungent.
Before I rip open the packets of bulbs that have eyes growing from them in the same way as potatoes, I surprise even myself and read the instructions. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t under normal circumstances do such a thing, it’s only because I’m on my gardening best behaviour, and trying to do things properly for a change.
I’m reminded that Bulbs are really quite something. They conscientiously grow year after year without you ever needing to do anything beyond the initial job of cosseting of them within the soil. And yet they also have an inbuilt and overpowering impulse to grow and live that we could learn from and be inspired by. Years ago, watching a gardening show, the expert said, and this has always stayed with me, that “bulbs, once dropped in the ground and whichever way up they are, will be guided towards the bright rays of the sun and will fight to grow towards them.” That once in the ground, their energy prevails, whatever we might do or not do to them.
A couple of years ago, when I was still in the cottage garden, and spring was drawing to a close, I found a handful of rogue bulbs in my trug that I must have overlooked. Not knowing what else to do with them, I shoved them into the ground, to see what would happen, and to my astonishment they grew. They didn’t attain tremendous heights, and remained stubby, but the narcissus still blossomed, flowering against the odds.
Another great idea for bulbs, and helpful if you’re stuck on gift ideas for Christmas, is to plant a tub filled with them and give someone you love a gift that grows. All you need is a pot, and a selection of bulbs. A clever idea is to plant them in multi-layered designs within the soil, which is a magnificent trick for encouraging a variety of flowers to bloom during the spring and at differing times. That way your gift may start with the arrival of those first snowdrops, become flowering daffodils with the advent of March, and culminate with a later influx of Tulips.
Because I read the instructions, I can knowledgably inform you that each bulb requires a specific amount of depth and space around them when being planted. Keen to plant exactly as it should be done, I consider popping back inside to grab my ruler. My gardening companion, Fidget has other ideas, and soon distracts me from this obsessive notion, sticking his inquisitive nose in the plant pot before climbing into the opened bag of compost, just as I’m about to grasp a handful of thick brown soil.
By the time I drop the bulbs upon the layer of damp compost, my worries of precision are completely forgotten as a curled paw stretches forward, batting against the bulbs, trying to scoop them out, and I hurriedly bury them with great handfuls of protective soil, spoiling his game.
Next we attempt to arrange the newly planted pots, which comes under the same ‘positioning challenge’ as that of the planting of the bedding plants. But, being in the zone, I attempt to try it with a Zen-like state of mind, carefully carrying them, while Fidgey chases me, his lean body lithely charging across the soggy grass in pursuit of my legs, which he loves to attack.
After several false starts, I finally place two of the planted ceramic pots by the patio doors, where we will take great pleasure in watching the first snowdrops appear from the comfort of our armchairs.
Fidget dashes off in to the field, deserting me, preferring to sit in a Mexican stand-off with a pheasant, and I leave them to it, heading back in to the Arctic Circle that is home, feeling pleased with my afternoon’s planting. I am excited to see the efforts of my endeavours as they appear as tiny shoots, beginning to grow and then flower, creating a welcome burst of colour in an otherwise drab winter garden, offering us that universal symbol of hope, of rejuvenation, and life.