Friday, September 30, 2005

Advice for the First Time Gardener

This year for the first time I planted bulbs. I was thrilled at the idea of starting a perennial garden that would get fuller and more beautiful with each consecutive summer. In the fall I decided to plant crocus, hyacinth and tulips, which would bloom that coming spring. First, I ordered specialty bulbs from a gardening catalogue that were shipped to me directly from Holland — Rembrandt tulips with their dramatic colour patterns, fountain tulips brimming over in fringed pink and delicate lady tulips in all their curved elegance.

When they arrived I got down to business. I hoed and raked the dirt, pulled out unwanted weeds, fertilized the soil, planted and composted. Finally I rested, looking forward to the day when green shouts would burst from the ground announcing the spring renewal.

I had only rested a couple of hours after my rigorous planting session when I realized that a bombardment of squirrels were infiltrating my garden, digging up and stealing my imported Dutch bulbs. I chased them away, yelling at the thieving rodents all the while. I’m sure my neighbours wondered about the woman running in her pajamas chasing squirrels across the lawn, but I had no time to worry about appearances. All my energy went into protecting my bulbs from those pernicious bushy-tailed rats. I chased them, yelled at them, called them derogatory names, even sprayed them with the hose – but those overgrown hamsters were persistent and tough-minded. They took all my heckling, wagged their tails and taunted me back.

It was time I sought outside help. One friend suggested that I wrap my bulbs in a strand of human hair, another suggested that I plant poisonous daffodil bulbs in between the tulips – but all these ideas were too little too late. The bulbs were already in the ground – what was left of them anyway. It was jokingly suggested to me that I pee on the garden to mark my territory, but then the neighbours really would think something was wrong with me. Instead I covered the ground with chicken wire, and then when spring came I carefully removed it so as not to damage the shoots. Not all my tulips were looted, so I still had many pretty flowers blooming in spring, although they were a little thinned out.

The funniest thing out of this whole experience was that the squirrels didn’t actually eat all the bulbs they took. Squirrels will steal bulbs, bury them somewhere else, and then forget where they put them. When spring came I actually had about a dozen tulips and sixty or so grape hyacinth growing on my front lawn. It was very pretty while it lasted. With tender care I dug up many of the bulbs and transplanted them back into my garden, and the rest were chopped down in early life by my husband’s ravenous lawn mower. The tulips that did survive are already wilting from the heat and beginning to die back. Now I have the summer to look forward to, and all the irises and gladiolas I planted.

My advice to a first time gardener is not to underestimate the tenacity and harbouring instinct of squirrels. Remember to cover the ground with a mesh wire right after you plant, and if that fails – look forward to a carpet of flowers on your front lawn.