If I do precious little in the flower garden, that little is directed
towards providing for what will give us the maximum reward
for the minimum effort over the longest period,
and into that category come bulbs,
particularly because from bulbs come all those really early,
brave forerunners, by many weeks, of spring.
Last year I ordered a huge quantity,
intending to cram the garden with them.
When they arrived it was blustery and cold
and I spent a horrible couple of afternoons
on my knees, with a trowel and my nose too close to the soil,
my hands throbbing and smarting as I worked.
I loathed those little wrinkled, warty bulbs
and there were a very great many of them,
and they were all very small. . .
But one of the eternal laws of gardening
is that suffering and labour are rewarded,
and from January to April we had a succession of flowers
when everything else was black and bare and depressing;
tiny iris reticulata, with their spotted, recurving tongues,
in darkest purple and an amazing Cambridge blue;
a special, creamy early crocus, and another the colour of sea-lavender. . .
So far, so Magic Apple Tree, but Susan Hill goes on to list
tiny narcissi, two or three inches high, with fragile, nodding heads
and names like Angel's Tears and Hooped Petticoat,
blue drifts of Grecian windflowers, anemone apennine, scilla, tritelia.
I clustered the bulbs anywhere, between shrubs, in the grass, under fruit trees
and when they came up, they were perfect,
and it was one of the most successful gardening jobs I have ever done.
It is possible that there are bulbs out there that I have forgotten about
and I shall be pleasantly surprised if they appear,
and I do know I planted some new tulips, but drifts -
no, I have never managed drifts of anything.
I am reminded of the well-meant encouragement
given by certain celebrated gardeners
to enjoy planting a garden even if you only have a window box.
This was once particularly poignant as I struggled
to keep a pot of supermarket basil alive one summer
after watching one of the aforementioned presenters
wheeling away a barrowload of the stuff to turn into pesto.