Search This Blog

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Going Au Naturel in the Valley…

Au Naturel“…all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

*            *           *            *

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in a sprightly dance.

William Wordsworth

Years ago during the Christmas season we took a trip to southern California to visit my wife’s relatives for a week or so. My wife’s cousin’s husband decided I needed a day away from socializing and volunteered to drive me to Mexico. Those were the days when Mexico was still a third world country, before the culture of drugs and violence were commonplace exports. We passed easily through customs at Tijuana, drove through a few side streets to view the seedier side of town (even in those days, we didn’t dare stray far from the main thoroughfares), and then drove south to the tiny seaside town of Rosarita. We purchased a few trinkets at the “tourista” shops (carved “comedy” and “tragedy” masks and a wooden statue of a gaunt lance-brandishing Don Quixote: “Quantas? Quantas?”) and headed back north where we cleared U.S. customs just as easily as we did Mexico’s a few hours before. I’m glad I had the experience, but I remember the rush of relief when we crossed the border and were back home in the good old U.S.A.

To this day I remember the pastel tombstones and plastic flowers in a Tijuana cemetery, the hillside community of cardboard houses teetering precariously on both sides of the canyon, perched just above a ravine filled with communal garbage…these contrasted with the blue Pacific and the gentle surf breaking on long stretches of deserted beach. But it wasn’t Mexico that impressed me the most. On the return trip the cousin sidetracked to the old Spanish mission of San Juan Capistrano, and, no, I didn’t see swallows in December, but I did see poinsettias—the Christmas flower—growing wild and in full bloom. Strange to see them flowering in the mission gardens, the delicate leaves splashing scarlet against the earthy adobe walls--so out of context from the scores of potted plants displayed in ponds of color in local stores during the Christmas season. (Strange, too, for this country boy from a small town in Eastern Washington to see Christmas lights strung on palm trees….) It had never crossed my mind that many greenhouse plants flourish in the wild in other climates.

The Wordsworth poem bears this out. You usually think spring bulbs like crocus and daffodils are purchased by mail order or in store garden departments and then planted by design in our landscapes. That they flower in the wild like poinsettias in the English countryside year after year and elsewhere is a fact. You see their blossoms in the strangest places this time of the year and wonder how they got there in the first place. Every spring I notice three or four daffodils blooming in the right-of-way just north of Kurt’s vegetable stand. One lone crocus bloomed last spring just up the road from Tony Broers’ mailbox. The sentinel of spring

After months of winter gray we could all use a little color in our gardens, our lives, but you have to plan ahead, hedge your bets. One fall a few years ago I placed my money on spring, went out and bought two hundred daffodil and jonquil bulbs so when March and April arrived I could see the cheerful flowers “dancing in the breeze,” on my own place, not in Wordsworth’s Jolly Olde England.

“Naturalizing,” I think, is the word for it. Plant the bulbs in the woods, pasture, the lawn and year after year you’ll be rewarded by spring color (see “Planting Spring Hope in the Valley…,” 10/28/2010) popping out in the “wilds” of your property. Carrying my “spring in a bag,”out I went to our back “forty,” the quarter acre of property that is tended only by the riding mower. It seemed the best way to create the “natural” effect was to plant the bulbs randomly, without design. To accomplish my flowering wilderness, I reached into the bag, grabbed a handful of bulbs and tossed them into the air. I sought them out in the grass and planted them where they lay. After wandering and tossing for an hour or so, I had all two hundred bulbs in the ground.snow drops

Fast forward to spring. The bulbs sprouted and the back forty was sprinkled here and there with solitary dots of forlorn yellow. Where was my “host” of golden daffodils? Random loneliness was what I got. What a disappointment! Except for the slugs, that is. It was a good spring feast for them.

And I had another problem, too. If you are a cultivator of flower bulbs, I’m sure you’re aware that the leaves which sprout along with flower and stalk, are nourishment pipelines. They do their photosynthesis thing and return nutrition to the bulb, thus recharging it for next year’s flower. If you remove these leaves too soon, you nip next year’s blossom in the bud; the bulb repays you for this service by yielding up only leaves the following spring. Any good gardener knows this; I did, but the grass needed mowing. (I have this fear the grass will get too tall for my mower, and there I’ll be with a hayfield instead of a lawn.) I gave in to fear and mowed the field. Sure enough, next spring I had plenty of green for St. Patrick’s Day and just the occasional daffodil. The following spring not a single bulb bloomed.

What I learned from all this, I’ll pass along. If you wish to naturalize but have to mow, plant the bulbs around the edges of things or close to the base of a tree or shrub—anywhere you can leave the bulb undisturbed to replenish itself. My crocus lawn is a success because the lawn is small, and secondly, crocus are early bloomers and by the time the lawn’s ready to mow, the bulbs have recycled themselves. (As a precaution, for the first mowing, I always use the highest blade setting.) Furthermore, if it’s a “host”of color you want, plant the bulbs in clumps—a dozen or so at least: the blossoms won’t look so lonely and there’s safety in numbers where slugs are concerned. daffodil clumpA note of caution, too: even if the flowers and the leaves have died back entirely, don’t spray Round Up anywhere near the bulb plantings or you’ll have nothing to show for spring color but the season’s crop of weeds.

The days get longer; the grass starts to grow; frogs begin their chorusing from the pond across the road; daylight savings time resumes, but nothing quite announces spring as flowering bulbs. This fall summon up some leftover energy from the summer’s gardening and plant some yourself. Bring the spring dance to your wilderness places.visitation

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment