2012-09-13 / News

The Island Garden

Flower bulbs break backs
BY ROGER MARSHALL

You just got one of those discount bulb catalogs in the mail. It offers hundreds of daffodil bulbs for astoundingly low prices. Terrifi c, you think, as images of a yard full of daffodils flashes before your eyes. Next spring the garden will be incredible. You turn the page to find several pages of tulips. Wow! That would be beautiful. Daffodils followed by tulips, with a few muscari and maybe some hyacinth with their wonderful spring aroma. So you order 200 daffodils, 100 tulips, and 100 muscari and hyacinth.

You promptly forget what you ordered until the UPS guy, wearing one of those thick black waist support belts, staggers up your driveway and deposits the sacks of bulbs on your doorstep. Now reality hits. There’s a total of 400 bulbs, each of which needs a little hole in the garden, a dab of bloodand bone-meal fertilizer, and a cover of screened soil.

Gardening books suggest you just toss a handful of bulbs in the air and plant them where they fall. The only problem with that is, onequarter of them land in the garden, one-eighth on the garden path, and a bunch on the lawn. You have no idea where the others landed, but you find them later as the lawnmower slices them into ribbons and your car squashes them all over the driveway. You carefully collect all the bulbs you can find and toss them into the garden.

You plant the bulbs using a trowel to dig the hole, but bending over digging each hole takes about five minutes per bulb and gives you a pain up the back of your legs and spine. Plus five minutes for each bulb translates into 2,000 minutes – or 33 hours of work.

There’s got to be a better way. There is – it’s called a bulb planter. It is a 3-foot long metal tool with a handle at one end and a circular device at the other. It saves your back as you stamp on the blade to cut a hole that you drop a bulb into. It lands pointy side down, so you have to bend over and turn it right side up. After you have done this 50 times you realize that you have cut bulb-planting time to two minutes per bulb. That’s only 800 minutes of planting – or 400 stomps of the bulb planter, 400 stoops to set the bulb upright, and 400 times of scraping the soil out of the bulb digger and pushing it back into the hole with your trowel before stomping it into place.

Your back is aching by now and you only have 50 bulbs planted. In an effort to speed up your efforts – after all, you have to go to work on Monday – you dig 20 little holes, toss 20 bulbs toward each hole, scrape 20 lumps of dirt over the hole and stomp ’em flat. That’s better. Now you’re down to 57 seconds per hole. Except that half the bulbs are upside down – but hey, who cares, they’ll grow eventually. One-eighth of the total, but still not fast enough.

Taking a hoe, you scrape a long trench and toss in some bulbs. You scrape the dirt back over the bulbs. Eureka! Twenty bulbs in one shot – and no bending. Two more trenches are made and bulbs tossed into them. One-quarter of the way through.

You want a few bulbs near the rock garden, but you can’t dig a trench here so you go back to the bulb planter. You stomp on it and it promptly breaks on a rock. So now you are back to digging with a trowel and filling holes by hand. After half an hour, sweat beads your forehead, your calf muscles complain, your back aches, and you quit for the day.

The next morning you return to the job. You find a soft patch of the garden and toss the bulbs around. They go where you want them this time. You walk around the soft soil and stomp the bulbs into the soil. Screw digging holes. Now you are half way through.

A week passes and the remaining bags of bulbs stare at you every night when you arrive home. You put some hyacinth and muscari in pots for forcing, but that still leaves about 170 bulbs. But it rained last night and the ground is soft so you emulate last week’s effort and quickly stomp them into the ground. Going back indoors you forget to take your boots off and trek dirt through the house. Your spouse goes ballistic and you go back to stomping bulbs, leaving the spouse to clean up. Finally all the bulbs are planted using the stomp-stomp-stomp method.

You let a satisfied smirk cross your face when you remember to take your boots off and go indoors to watch the Sunday football game. You can, and do, go to work with a clear conscience.

Next weekend you check the garden. Little piles of bulbs lie on top of the soil surface. Skunks love blood meal and have dug up more than half the bulbs to get at it. Within three weeks all your efforts are negated. It’s about that time that you decide you don’t really need bulbs in your garden.

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