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Tag: forcing bulbs

little miss hyacinth

hmm. when last we left little miss hyacinth she was asleep at the back of the fridge, tucked back by the leftover spaghetti and the butter-under-cow.

she had, just before last dispatch (“honey, what’s that growing in the fridge?” 12.14.06), been rescued from the deep recesses of the laundry room. where she had unwittingly, and against her deepest desires, been wrongly abandoned. there on a shelf with the holiday wrappings and curlicue ribbons.

what did i know about hyacinths? i was, still am, a hyacinth virgin. when the little cheat sheet that i carried home with her told me to leave said bulb in a cool, dark place, i thought the back of the storage room was as good as it gets.

i was wrong.

so i righted my ways—once shown the light by my bulb lady friend.

i fetched poor miss hyacinth, hoisted her up from the cellar and into the back of the fridge. where she sat, nestled alongside her leftover neighbors, sinking her tush in a bath of cold water, soaking up all that she needed, all that she wanted, so she could let rip a tangle of white waxy roots.

i don’t know about you, but if i sat in cold water for a month and a day i might go on some sort of a strike. a protest, you know. a no-growth, no-how, sort of horticultural tirade.

hmm. seems that she might have.

friends, little miss hyacinth has been out of the fridge for a full 11 days now, and barely a peep has she made. her green leaves, they are tight. her buds-in-the-making, they are pursed and determined. she seems, by all measures, hellbent on not moving.


remember how our bulb lady friend likened the big red amaryllis to that teenage boy who had no desire to move ’til he was good and well ready (“red triumphant” 1.18.07)?

well, meet little miss prissy hyacinthy who seems to be the bulb equivalent of the teenage girl who has locked herself in the bathroom for hours on end, swiping mascara, dabbing gloss here and there, sweeping cobalt-blue blush all over her most striking cheekbones.

we have been banging on that bathroom door for days now. but she won’t answer. won’t come out. won’t even humor us with a note slipped under the transom.

by even the worst prognostications, she was, by now, supposed to be strutting her stuff, perfuming the daylights out of the kitchen. but nooooooo. here we are bounding toward february and she is in there doing god-only-knows-what with her girlie-girl bag of botanical tricks.

so we just thought we’d let you in on the big bulby letdown. and tell you that little miss hyacinth seems to have turned into some sort of behind-closed-doors balled-up prima donna.

we’ve little to do here but leave her there on the sill. we shove her toward sunlight. we whisper sweet nothings. it’s useless, it seems.

so we slump by the door and we wait and we wait. she’ll be out as soon as she runs out of mascara.

p.s. and meanwhile, ol’ stud boy amaryllis, mr. red buds on long tall stout stalk, is putting the rest of the winter garden to shame. he’s up to six, count ‘em six, trumpets on high. the boy, finally roused, is running and running the bases. long past home, he’s back over to second. (if you can do such a thing in baseball…) maybe he’s showing off so little miss hyacinth will come out of her shell.

red triumphant

like a recalcitrant boy in the corner, my amaryllis it did nothing. day after day–nothing. not a sprout or a shoot or a peep.


so much so that at one point i thought it a dud. a firecracker without fizzle. i’m not one to chuck things, but this baby was nudging me in a corner.

tucked in the loamy soils the day after thanksgiving, it sat idle straight through advent. i had done what it wanted: gave it light. gave it space. even replaced the cheap green plastic pot that it came with, with a sporty red aluminum bucket. what more could an amaryllis want?

apparently, time.

‘bout the third week into this non-adventure, when i had decided its sole purpose in life was to take up a chunk of my corner, place holding forever, i put in a call to the bulb lady; you’ve met her before here, jennifer brennan, my life coach on all things dug in the ground.

well, says jennifer, laughing, “amaryllis, i’ve said for years, are kind of like teenage boys.

“it’s gonna grow when it wants to, and the only thing it’s going to please is itself.

“might be christmas, or valentine’s day, or easter. no way to know.”

hmmm, i said, eyeing my adolescent boy with the green tip popping out of the pot.

okay, then, so i’ll wait.

considered blaring some tunes. but then figured the ones that i’d pick would be so out of date, the poor thing would stay hunkered in soils just to spite me.

so i went on with my life. cast ever-so-casual a glance off to the corner. but not too often, and only when the teenage bulb was not looking.

and then, well after christmas, somewhere around epiphany, appropriately enough, the ol’ boy decided to stretch. must have been getting out of bed sometime in the mid-afternoon. like my own 13-year-old only dreams of being able to do.

it stretched and it stretched, inspiring hope, hinting at joy. if i waited. if i did little but sprinkle the occasional few drops of water.

and then, oh my lord, what had been one stalk turned into two. and what had been one amaryllis-in-the-making on one of those stalks turned into two, too. do the math, and it looks like we might be in for a three-ring circus.

yesterday, all day, it was like watching the teenager suddenly decide there was someplace to go. every time i turned around that red trumpet was blaring a few extra notes.

and then, when i walked in the door after the ol’ car had died and my key ring exploded all over the parking lot, losing a key in the process, i shot a glance in the corner and my heart did a dance.

just when i needed it most, the ol’ boy he was blaring. mouth wide. tonsils dangling. if he’d been a sick teenage boy, i could have swabbed the germs right out of his lungs, he was so open wide.

i stood there and marveled. he had moved when he wanted to, all right, but somehow–in that magical, mysterious way of the world–his moving came just when i needed it most.

his sidekicks, they’re opening as i type. by nightfall i could have three teenage boys out there, all carrying on wildly. all carrying on, red.

and i, as their long-awaiting mama, could not be more tickled. they are, in the end, red triumphant, oh so triumphantly red.

anyone out there waiting and waiting for triumph, triumph in any color? anyone with a tale of life unfolding on a time table all of its own?

honey, what’s that growing in the fridge?

tucked back between the leftover roast-chicken hash, the spaghetti, and the cranberry relish, there squats a hyacinth bulb in a bidet of cold water in my otherwise innocent fridge. what we’re aiming for here is to get the ol’ bulb’s private parts, the basal plate, if you prefer, to delight in sucking up that cold drink, thus sending down roots that will gulp mightily while the green stem starts shooting up toward the cottage-cheese shelf. this is how you grow a garden in winter, how you turn upside down the whole planet and the slant of the sun, really, tricking the poor globes of potential into thinking it’s spring we are entering, not the deep depths of winter.
i am something of a paperwhite nut. like gretel scattering her bread crumbs through the woods, i scatter paperwhites everywhere i go in december. if i’m coming to your house, you can bet i’ll have paperwhites somewhere on my person–stuffed in a pocket, tucked in a big fat cereal bowl, planted in a gravely mound–and i’ll leave them behind for you to take in their december dance. i can do paperwhites with my eyes closed.
apparently, i can’t do hyacinths. not even with eyes wide open.
i am a hyacinth virgin, and i am definitely doing this with training wheels on.
feeling frisky and full of risk a few weeks back, i decided it was high time i moved up the horticultural ladder: a hyacinth would be mine. with all the tremble of a true go-get-’em girl, i reached out my fist at the garden shop that i love, and i grabbed the biggest, fattest purple-skinned bulb from the bin. because they do gardening for dummies there at the nursery, they had a healthy stash of cheat sheets nearby. “forcing hyacinth bulbs,” it read. “hyacinths are one of the easiest bulbs to force,” it promised.
that was two weeks ago. i did everything they told me. i plopped the fat bottom of the bulb in my special hyacinth forcing jar. i studied the cheat-sheet diagram, determined from their careful line drawing that the water was not supposed to touch the frilly underparts of the bulb. i tucked the whole contraption at the back of a storage closet in my shivery basement. (if you want beauty in winter, you must simulate the deep dark frozen underground of your garden.) i checked every morning for days. nothing. nothing. then, as if some subterranean plot to foil my hope, a spot of mold. egad. a green, furry threat to do in my bulb. but nothing, still, from the frilly underparts.
no more waiting around. it was time to put in a call to jennifer brennan, horticultural wizard and bulb lady supreme at the chalet nursery in wilmette, where this recalcitrant bulb had found its way to my basket in the first place.
get that thing in the fridge, and be sure the water is tickling its under-frills, she insisted. the 50-degree basement, while too cold for a little boy and his legos, is not cold enough for a hyacinth bulb itching to burst out of its oniony skin. it needs 38 to 40 degrees. and, while we’re at it, it does not like the gases emitted by ripening fruits or veggies, so the persnickety thing needed a see-through sealable coat, the bulb lady advised. thus, the gallon-sized zip-lock bag in which the whole kitten caboodle now sits, shivering. i need to keep an eye on the water level; make sure it’s touching the basal plate now, and once they start their winter’s descent, the tips of the roots must be dangling in water. then, when the whole forcing-vase bottom is a thicket of roots, i can unearth the whole deal, exhuming my experiment-in-risk from its place at the sorry back of the fridge. today it twiddles its rootlets alongside soggy spaghetti, by the middle of january, god and basal plate willing, it shall be a proud cobalt-blue garden of one, abloom by my sink, knocking me silly with its heavenly scent. stay tuned…