In autumn some years ago my daughter (already on Borneo) was ill enough to have to go to hospital. I remember the panic of serious illness happening to someone I love, and that she was so far away made it seem much worse. I felt so helpless, so I did what I always do when feeling desperate: I went into the garden.
As it was autumn I had plenty of bulbs to plant and as I put each one into the earth, I thought to myself “By the time this flowers, everything will be absolutely fine again.” (It was.)
Some really kind people recently gave me a voucher for a local garden centre, as one of them said “Maybe for bulbs…” and so last week I zipped off and filled my trolley, as you can see in the header.
We moved to the Isles of Scilly in January 1969. It was stormy in a way I had never known before: gales and driving rain, but mild and warm. This weather is the basis for one of the islands’ main industries: growing early narcissi:
They have the most beautiful, heady perfume, and in those first weeks on St Mary’s when we lived in a holiday flat, my mum filled the house with bunches of “sols” (soleil d’or). Those blooms which for some reason had not left the island were left in buckets outside the Post Office for everyone to help themselves.
It is such fun to try and find exactly the right bulb for the right situation in the garden. I well remember the triumphant moment a few years back when the male pheasant who comes to feed in our garden managed to stand exactly next to the”pheasant’s eye” bulbs I had planted.
As you can see from my shopping trolley, this year I will be planting bulbs for a wildflower meadow, and Rembrandt tulips around Haus Ferdinand.
Tulips just love long, cold winters and so do very well indeed here. They are so showy, so exotic, the Freddie Mercury of the garden world, and I have grown to love them.
A bulb itself is such an unassuming, plain sort of thing. Planting bulbs in autumn feels like an investment and belief in the future: planting forward.
When I was about five years old, I played the role of a snowdrop at a church service. I had a green crepe paper collar tied around my neck and had to start kneeling down, and then “grow” up into a snowdrop. Whilst singing. I remember the lyrics (written by Annie Matheson, 1853 -1924) as if it were yesterday, and found the very song on youtube:
“It’s rather dark in the earth today,”
said one little bulb to its brother,
“But I thought that I felt a sunbeam’s ray.
We must strive and grow ‘til we find our way!”
and they nestled close to each other.
They struggled and strived by day and by night,
‘til two little snowdrops in green and white
rose out of the darkness and into the light;
and softly kissed one another.
(Another girl, called Janet, was also dressed as a snowdrop, and sang and grew with me but I am sure I was the Chief Snowdrop.)
Germans say: “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude“, which means (roughly) “Anticipation is the greatest joy”. That in turn reminds me of the Inuit word “Iktsuarpok” which describes how you feel when you are waiting for someone you love to arrive, and you can’t stop running to the door to see if they are already in sight.
That will be me, next spring.