Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forcing bulbs

Papery outside, soft mealy nut inside.  Onion of potential.

While vulnerable when out of the ground, in the ground, a bulb is capable of pushing aside compacted soil that would make a Bobcat cry in frustration.

It is a power that can and should be used for good.

Many people like to have forced bulbs around their home as part of the winter holiday decorations/atmosphere, but me, I'm not so keen on that.  I know that winter is going to drag on, and often doesn't even start hitting full force until after the new year has begun.  It's inevitable; around here, there's something about the middle of January.  You look around you, you are no longer all Winter Wonderland sleigh bells jingling in your ears holiday festive; you look around you, and you see frozen tundra, hopefully covered by at least some snow, because turf is bleak right around now.

You look around you, and you know.  Winter settled in around you, and it set up shop while you relaxed your standards and padded up on holiday goodies.  Winter was like a cat, coming in and getting onto your lap perhaps without you even realizing it, but suddenly you realize you have reached out to pet the creature, who has entirely molded themselves to your contours.

Winter is all about you.  And it will leave when it is good and ready.

I alternately chuckle and get peevish when I hear folks talk about "signs of spring" right now.  You have got to be out of your cotton-pickin' mind.  In fact, only cotton picking minds could even conceive of such a thing...sure, maybe where you are, a wayward jonquil is poking its green tips through your soil.  But up here they're daffodils, dude, and unless your dryer vent played a dirty trick on a small patch, or Mother Nature sent up a warm spell in December that fooled 'em, daffodils won't be poking up for a couple months yet.

NOW is an excellent time to start bringing a little spring green into the house.  From scratch.  To remind yourself of all the effort it takes to move out from under winter's blanket.

"Forcing" a bulb is a beautiful experience with a horrible name.  Whenever I read or hear it, I imagine People for the Ethical Treatment of Bulbs joining forces with Amnesty International to protest the inhuman (inbulban? infoliate? malfloral?) flogging of innocent life form storehouses.  It even makes me wince a little bit when I set up my river rocks and pebbles and little glass marbles in pottery here and there, as if I am setting up some sort of bear trap.  Forcing.  Against their will.  Ouch.

Nonetheless, I get over it.

And I play with water, and pebbles, and bulbs, and enjoy the slightest smell of dirt, the faintest smell of water.  (Yes, your water smells.  It might smell like chlorine, it might smell vaguely rusty, or air passing over it might simply smell "ozonic"--but it smells.  I'm guessing you knew that.)  I prop the bulbs pointy side up, I make sure their bottoms are hovering just above water, and I even put them in light, even though I know they don't need light until the green spears start poking up.  Because I enjoy checking on them, to see what is...dare I say this without seeming too sappy?...a tiny wonder.

hyacinth (click. enlarge, see root bumps)
Things happen.

Roots start appearing underneath the bulb, trusting they will find the water they somehow know is there. (I mean, how cool is that?  They sat in a bag or a box for months, and didn't bust a single move, and suddenly...tentacular reaching....)  Then, voila! a green tip is suddenly at the tip.  And then all starts growing, and the green tip becomes a shoot that seems impossibly long in proportion to the height of the bulb, and yet it manages to hold itself up...and then, if you have forced a paperwhite narcissus, the start of a flower that announces its arrival before it even fully unfurls.  A fragrance so powerful, it forces some grown men to leave the room.

All from that bulb you were afraid of destroying just a short time before.

But make no mistake.  Yes, miracle of life inside your house, pumping out green and scent on your tabletop...but outside, still winter.

This is okay.  Because, despite my flagrant disregard for the potentially abusive treatment of bulbs, I am no fan of forcing seasons to come.  I can wait.  I use the bulbs not to fool my mind, or even fool my eye. I see full well what is beyond the window that brings light to the bulbs.

I like the contrast.  I like the reminder that some things just take time.  I like also remembering that certain pleasures can only come in this season, whether they are the smell of woodsmoke when you walk the dog, the chance to actually use the cross country skis, the squealing happinesses of a snowman being built on the neighbor's lawn.  Or even the act of nothing, the drape of snow that insulates all the potential growth underneath it, keeping it warm for now, letting it rest.

Fallow times can actually be quite good for what lies beneath.

So, keep your signs of spring to yourself.  There isn't even a witchhazel showing its fake bloom around here yet.  We're USDA Zone 5A and above, thank you very much.  We are frozen in and just now settling into the routine that is winter.  Weeks and weeks before we bust out of our skins.

A trick which, if we take the time to reflect, we recognize is a miracle worth waiting for.

It may be Fleur d'Narcisse for me today.  Not to push a season, but to think of it.  I'll wear it, and think.  Maybe I'll do busy winter things.  Maybe I'll cozy up with a blanket.  And find myself with a cat on my lap.

images author's own


Anonymous said...

I have some paperwhites that I've been holding on to, waiting for that feeling that I cannot take any more winter, dangandblastit! I don't get winter blues until February, usually... probably should go get the paperwhites ready now.

Anonymous said...

There are some catkins locally that have started putting on growth - they must know something that we don't know here!

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

ScentScelf said...

Muse, I was just saying in a different conversation how it's mid-late February that whomps me with a full thonk of "I've had enough winter." Still another month to go at that point...

...but yes, that's my favorite time for paperwhites. And right around now would be a good time to get started; I think maybe I'll see if I can find enough for two more flushes.

ScentScelf said...

Anna, you may be higher in latitude, but you've got that Atlantic current working for you. The catkins could be telling the truth. If so, I won't hold your spring against you. ;)

Musette said...

My bedroom is awash in bulbs right now. Bathroom: ditto. Kitchen: yeppers. Living room/office: you betcha.

And it's my second batch of paperwhites, amaryllis, and now I am thrilled to announce: Hyathinth!!!

I suffer badly from SAD - gotta do whatever I can - and bulbs iz it!


Josephine said...

You've given me the urge to play in dirt. I'm not a gardener (killing all living plants is a particular talent of mine, though), but I am intrigues by the smells associated with the process.

Yes, water certainly has a smell.

Fleur d'Narcisse is divine and perfect for a mid-winter 'cozy-up' with a cat on your lap.

ScentScelf said...

Musette, what a fine wash. Every year, I get bolder with how many I purchase; you inspire me.

You see my one lonely amaryllis in the glass forcing vase in the pictures. It will be here in time for the February slump, I think. Which, as you point out, will be a happy to combat any SAD.


ScentScelf said...

Josephine, forcing bulbs is truly easy. Especially the paperwhites. You can do it, even if you have homicidal, erm, overloving flora behavior.

I love my Fleur d'Narcisse. Cracks me up that I am supposed to hear "hay farm" (Turin) and think "oh, dear." It's all "oh, yes" for me. ;)

Marina said...

People for the Ethical Treatment of Bulbs, LOL. Love reading you!

ScentScelf said...

Marina, I'm telling you...they see me. They know what I did this winter. ;)

Vanessa said...

LOL at "inbulban? infoliate? malfloral", also the latest Ledgian coinage of "tentacular reaching"!

Beautiful post, and there are few signs of spring here either, indeed we are having our worst winter for 300 years or something. I count myself lucky to have escaped for two weeks to California in the middle of it!

ScentScelf said...

Ah...your coinage of "Ledgian" will soon lead to "ilLedgible," I fear... ;)

Thank you. I am sorry to hear that you, too, are having quite the winter. It seems that much of the globe least those of us topside..."extreme weather" having "trended" big as a news item this week, usurping "flocks of bird falling to the ground" and/or "Apocalypse/Mayan 2012." In that context, of course, I can deal with an extra foot or so of snow, even if the foot is due to global warming.

"300 years or so"? Heh. Did you see my use of "bajillion" in a previous post? ;)