The green shoots of January
Sarah Morgan Jones
Back in the autumn I did something which I considered quite grown up – I bought and planted bulbs for the spring.
For years I have been playing catch up on this, buying bulbs ‘in the green’ in the early months of the year and veritably paying through the nose for them.
Each time I would grumble that I could have had a kilo of them for the same price as a couple of pots that the grumpy-harridan-from-the-garage who was more organised than me was selling on.
I would get annoyed that I hadn’t planned months ahead when I browsed through gardening magazines showing smug acolytes of Monty Don with their ‘bulb lasagnes’ designed to flower from the bleakest days of January, right through to the early summer if you played your cards right.
Boho vintage galvanised containers, repurposed sinks and cisterns, buckets, bins and old boots all layered up in reverse flowering order from allium to snowdrop, trios carefully placed in clean friable compost by clean but gnarly hands, featuring close-ups of carefully trimmed nails which bear no resemblance to anything on my land or hands when gardening.
“And just so they don’t look too plain in the meantime, top them off with some miniature cyclamen or pansies which will bring some winter cheer to your eye while you wait for nature to do her work.”
More is more
Well last year, I resisted the manana banana and stood with my horrified husband in the Cash and Hardware, asking in depth questions about whether to buy prepacked or by the pound (the latter – the bulbs are bigger and stronger), which of the crocuses will spread (all of them), how many varieties of narcissi will give the longest display (the more the merrier).
His eyes bulged as I then threw caution to the wind and decided that more is definitely more and filled lots of brown paper bags as if I was playing Supermarket Sweep at the pick-n-mix stand and handed them to the shopkeeper to weigh.
Seeing my eyes water slightly at the bill, she touched my hand and said: “It’s an investment, dear, just imagine how heart-glad you will be in the spring.”
And she was right. This was money well spent – I live out in the garden as soon as the temperatures allow, and dammit, I work too hard not to treat myself occasionally.
The gavel struck. Sold to the woman with lifestyle ambitions, a bargain at half the price.
Pregnant with promise
Then of course came the wait. The bulbs sat on the kitchen table. It rained and rained, I worked and worked, and the ground outside became muddier and muddier.
One fading day in late October I stepped away from a Nation.Cymru day at the computer and went out still in my pjs and threw handfuls of the little buggers, pregnant with promise, all over the small bed in front of the kitchen window.
Where they fell, I poked holes with my own gnarly fingers, giving no hoots about the state of my nails or the relatively new risk of bleeding to death thanks to the arrival of blood thinners in my life.
It was dry but nearly dark, so I worked fast and frantically, possessed quite frankly, pushing them as far down as I could without huff or harm.
I paid little attention to what was going in where, but seem to remember aiming for a mix of sorts, and while my husband made efforts to get me into gloves before wandering off, the dog watched on inquisitively close, with a speech bubble over his comically cocked ears which read: “Whatchoo doin?” in a Swansea accent.
When that bed was done I did the same in the front garden, before finally giving into the dark and retiring to a hot bath to consider feeling ‘heart-glad’ in the spring.
November arrived with whatever unseasonal weather that brought, more rain, too warm, storms and strife.
My garden sits high up on Townhill and has had, until recently, a peculiar microclimate that generally sees things bloom a good two weeks after the gardens closer to sea level.
This has its bonuses – mostly that I have still got flowers long after their relatives pass their prime lower down – and its disadvantages.
But these days there is no telling.
By the beginning of December there were strong, clearly visible shoots popping up out of the ground and as the rain came down and the temperatures stayed mild, I had visions of tulips for Christmas.
When the news outlets warned of the Troll from Trondheim, I eyed them anxiously knowing that if it came stomping through this garden that frantic October evening would be wasted.
The temperatures started to drop and I hauled a bag of compost round from the front garden – a neighbour donated several old bags of the stuff before they moved house – and I liberally covered all the shoots and the rhubarb crown (which was also showing signs of life) with handfuls of the stinky blackstuff.
Just in time. Days later the newly applied layer was frozen solid, and as the Troll marched through the neighbourhood he left no footprints and broke no nascent shoots near me.
So now we are back to the mildish wet weather.
The extra layer has thawed and settled and once more the shoots are visible, green and strong.
Their numbers are legion and their strength is encouraging, although I know we are not out of the woods yet.
I notice that my husband has dragged another bag of compost round and appears to be repeating the process, one handful, one outing at a time, and I notice that the dog is still curious and the cat is, quite frankly, overjoyed.
So I’m keeping my gnarly fingers crossed that despite the wonky weather, the rain, the cat, the dog, any other Trolls on the horizon, the best efforts of the government and the cost-of-living-crisis… I am hoping to feel heart-glad in the spring.
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