Saturday, November 7, 2009

Planting bulbs

Today marked one of our annual traditions: planting bulbs. This family ritual stems from the time my mother (8 months pregnant with me) planted a ring of tiny daffodils around a dogwood and thereafter called it "Margaret's circle." Call me nostalgic but that started a fire in me to start my own colorful tradition.

A month after our son Bobby was born, my father helped me plant daffodils in his honor. In subsequent years, we've planted tulips in a variety of colors and all sizes of daffodils in honor of several pregnancies--some viable, some lost. I could take comfort in the fact that no matter what was happening with my cycles, I could always count on something beautiful emerging from the soil in March. These flowers have been so significant to me that they were the inspiration of my first published essay.

So since my father (who I only see a few times a years) was in town, I asked him to help me plant more daffodils. Though the soil was a bit hard and we didn't have many options for where to plant, we jumped into our project.

Each year I have visions of my children eagerly partaking in this tradition. In my rose colored imagery, they wait patiently for instructions and follow them without a struggle. But so far, the reality has been largely frustration. Dad digs a hole, they throw a bulb in upside down, I clamor to fish it out and position it properly, they try to fill in the dirt before I'm ready, they start lining all the bulbs up like soldiers, and then they get bored with the whole ordeal by the fifth bulb. Only 45 more to go; sure, go play.

Over the years I have learned a few tips for including kids in gardening. Hopefully these can make your experience a fun family event.
1. Know what you're doing before you get the kids involved: have all tools ready, know where you're going to plant, and test for soil quality and roots beforehand. Try to pick a pleasant day before it's too cold and the ground is hard. You can go here for the basics.
2. Only buy a manageable number of flowers. Remember you have to dig one hole per bulb. Don't plan on saving any for next year. Daffodils come back and even multiply year after year but you can get only 2 or 3 good years for tulips before their splendor diminishes.
3. Invest in a bulb planting tool. I recommend the one where you can use your feet. This makes a perfectly deep whole and pulls out the soil well.
4. The instructions always say to plant them 6-8 inches apart but I think they look better slightly closer than that, especially if you have a small area you're planting. But then, I'm no expert! Do plant them in clumps of odd numbers to look more natural (five is recommended).
5. Lay out the bulbs before you begin digging and try to convince your kids not to move them until it's time to dig each hole. Good luck with that!
6. Give kids specific tasks and keep the process orderly. Move from left to right, dig hole, place bulb, fill hole, move on. Most kids like to fill in the dirt. Some places suggest adding bone meal to each hole; I've never done this and they've looked great.
7. Take this opportunity to teach them how flowers bloom and what they can expect in a few months. This is also a good lesson in delayed gratification.
8. Don't force them to finish with you; let them move onto another activity nearby if they're bored. Take a deep breath and just enjoy digging in the dirt.

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