For many gardeners, the wonder of bulbs pushing their way up through the soil is one the first signs of springtime. With the ground snow-covered and wintry weather apparently here to stay, however, it is likely to be many weeks before these harbingers of spring appear. In an effort to temporarily satisfy my yearning for the magic of springtime, I purchased a variety of bulbs during the holiday season to grow and enjoy indoors during the interim.
A momentary break from frigid temperatures and winter storms afforded a welcome opportunity to escape the dry, stuffy confines of my indoor sanctuary and enjoy pale blue skies and crisp clean air on a pleasant winter day.
I know it has been a cold spell when temperatures barely above freezing seem inviting. Despite a lingering chill in the air, the afternoon sun generated remarkable warmth.
The daylight hours have grown noticeably longer, and although the gardens remain completely buried beneath a dense blanket of snow, the intensity of the afternoon sun reflecting off the slowly shrinking crystalline surface offered the promise of spring’s eventual arrival and the rebirth of our landscapes.
Armed with a teakettle of boiling water, I trudged my way across through the soft, snowy covering to the edge of my frozen water garden, hoping to melt a hole in ice. In most years, a bubbling pump furnishes a nearly perpetual opening enabling gases from decomposing debris to escape -- ensuring the survival of the fish below while providing a constant source of water for wildlife all winter long.
Due to this season’s multiple wintry offerings and bitter-cold temperatures, the pond has been frequently frozen solid, the gurgling, miniature fountain creating unique ice sculptures whose forms change throughout the day. With a puff of steam, the hot water worked its magic, unleashing the soothing sounds of bubbling water from beneath the frozen dome.
For many gardeners, the wonder of bulbs pushing their way up through the soil is one of the first signs of springtime. With the ground snow-covered and wintry weather apparently here to stay, it is likely to be many weeks before these harbingers of spring appear. In an effort to temporarily satisfy my yearning for the magic of springtime, I purchased a variety of bulbs during the holiday season to grow and enjoy indoors during the interim.
Each morning, the intoxicating perfume of paper-white narcissus blooms greets me as I enter our brightly lit breakfast room. These sweet-smelling clusters of dainty white flowers atop slender, fleshy stems took barely more than two weeks to bloom once started. Admittedly, their intense scent could be described as overpowering at times, but I welcome their cheerful blossoms as a sure sign that spring will gradually be forthcoming.
Few decorative bulbs rival the blooms of the elegant amaryllis (Hippeastrum). This popular holiday gift is easy to grow and usually produces four to six huge, spectacular lily-shaped flowers clustered at the top of a tall sturdy stalk in shades of pink, red, and white. Larger bulbs often produce multiple stems that may appear simultaneously or emerge one after another.
Keep these large bulbs cool until ready to plant and then soak in lukewarm water for a few hours prior to planting to rehydrate the bulbs and to accelerate their root development. Select a container that is just slightly larger than the width of the bulb (2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb is ideal); be sure the container has drainage holes.
Fill the bottom of the pot with sterile potting soil and place the bulb in the container at a depth that will bring the neck of the bulb within an inch of the rim. Cover the bulb with soil, leaving the neck and shoulders of the bulb exposed. Water thoroughly and place the potted bulb in a warm, bright location. Water sparingly until the flower stalk emerges. Fertilize every other week with a general purpose, liquid soluble fertilizer at one-half the recommended strength.
In the weeks to come, passionate gardeners longing for springtime should be able to pursue a wealth of horticultural opportunities. January is an ideal time to begin searching gardening magazines, the Web and local newspapers for listings of gardening lectures, educational courses, flower shows and symposiums. My calendar for the next few months is chock full of possibilities just waiting to transport me through the winter months and on to the first glimpses of springtime in my own garden.
When snow covers the ground, a trip to local greenhouses serves as a tremendous rejuvenator. The unmistakable, earthy aroma of damp soil and lush vegetation, the chatter of tropical birds, and the glorious profusion of colorful flowers instantly lifts the spirits.
Gardening programs and information are available on the radio, TV and the Web, providing therapy for the short term. For the serious addicts, participation in a plant society may be an effective remedy. Escape the winter doldrums by signing up for a course or attending a special event and expand your gardening knowledge with others who share your passion for plants.
Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover, Mass., for more than 30 years. Her weekly gardening column "Green Thumbs Up" has appeared in Community Newspapers for more than a decade. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.