My Reward for a Job Not Well Done

crocus_forced muscari_forced

I have written several times both on this site and elsewhere about taking a chance with forced or forgotten bulbs. My advice has always been to just try. Forced bulbs are often exhausted and will not produce flowers the following year. But sometimes they do. And sometimes they do the year after that.

And the sale bulbs that you bought too late in the season or the packet that you tossed in a drawer and forgot to plant: those might just come back, too. Or maybe they won’t. But you can’t know unless you try, and how much effort does it take to pop a few bulbs into the soil anyways? [Says she who almost didn't do it.] Even if they rot in place, well, at least they are adding something to the soil.


Last spring a landscape designer friend created a display garden at a large garden show. Like most displays created at that time of the year, his included a boatload of forced spring bulbs, primarily crocus, ‘Tête à Tête’ daffodils, and muscari. After the show he gifted myself and another friend several trays of spent bulbs. I’m going to be honest here and say that I was not as good about the bulbs as I could have been. I had a lot of other things on the go and the bulbs got shoved into a protected corner of my garden and were all but forgotten. I did not follow any of my own advice. I did not clip off their spent blooms. I hardly bothered to water them at all. I did allow them to wither and die. I did not remove the bulbs from the pots or remove their dry, dead leaves. I did absolutely nothing.

And when fall came I waited until the eleventh hour, until literally just before the ground froze to get them in the ground. We may have added a little greensand to the soil at planting time, but to be honest I don’t recall if we did anything at all. I was lazy and I probably planted them too closely. The goal was get them in and be done with it.

Low and behold, they bloomed this spring. ALL OF THEM. It was fantastic! It was unbelievable.

And so the garden has taught me my own lesson all over again. Sometimes things just don’t work out even when they should, and other times they do even though they shouldn’t. Even when you break the rules, are lazy, slapdash in your execution, and do everything wrong.

You will also note that I did not remove the blooms when they appeared, another bit of my own advice that I could not bring myself to follow. Do as I say, not as I do! The blooms were too pretty and I was very happy to see them. Too happy to clip them. The one thing I did do right was side dress with fresh compost and a bit of sea kelp. Perhaps the bulbs will not bloom as well next year, or not at all. But I don’t care — it will be another lesson for me to learn.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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11 thoughts on “My Reward for a Job Not Well Done

  1. Gardens are definitely funny that way. My reward for being lazy last year (when I took forever to harvest my kale seeds) means that I now have a carpet of baby kale growing. I hope they don’t crowd each other out. ;)

  2. I threw a nasty soft cucumber into my compost heap a few months ago. Now I have a bunch of lovely cucumber plants! I never dreamed they would grow from a store bought, green cucumber, I thought they would have to be dry.

  3. How exciting that you got such great colors too! It is just another sign that we are not the ones in control of the garden. The garden is an entity unto itself. It will do as it wills.

  4. This is so funny to me. Good for you! I’m sure you’ve felt the sorrow of when you’ve worked on something so carefully it still goes to rot. This is the universe giving back to you!

    Last year we had horrible rot with our tomatoes. I was so despondent I didn’t clean any of the rotten tomatoes up. This spring I have a whole bunch of volunteer tomato plants. Believe me…they shouldn’t be there as we live in NY. I just had heavy frost last night and they are still alive. I’ll take it!

  5. I have come to believe that gardens are very forgiving. I often have similar success with forced bulbs, especially hyacinths.
    This spring I have a new test for spring bulbs. Last fall I got some tulips on final clearance. Then the weather took a turn for the worst and they never made it into the ground. The bulbs spent the winter on the porch. Will they grow now? Time will tell.

  6. I had the same luck with cape gooseberries. I treated them like queens with daily waterings and weekly fertilizings, and they stayed super small seedlings. Then I left for vacation and didnt water or even think about them for three weeks. Came home to find huge plants full of fruit. Who knew?

  7. A few years ago I was gifted with a bunch of crocus bulbs. While carrying the flat through the lawn, some of the smaller bulbs fell through the holes in the flat. I thought nothing of it, figured they’d rot and die. The next spring I was rewarded with a little trail of crocus blooming through the lawn. And these weren’t even planted, just fell to the ground, were hidden in the lawn, and eventually covered by lawn clippings. I don’t expect these to last many years, but while they do it’s a lovely little reminder that things just want to grow!

  8. My yard is full of crocus. On occasion I’ll move some of the bulbs to new places but for the most part, they get mowed off with the lawn when I FINALLY get around to doing it. Hardy little bastards. They look nice with my dandelions.

  9. I didn’t know that the blooms are supposed to be removed. I always like to see them blooming as long as possible. I will cut back the bloom stems (if the rabbits haven’t already). I find it difficult to leave the leaves until they turn brown because grass grows up in them and I have to trim the grass by hand.

    Last Fall, I forgot to plant my bulbs (tulips, hyacinths, crocus). I finally remembered them at the beginning of January, and luckily the ground was still thawed and I was able to get them planted. They were a little late in blooming, but the tulips and hyacinths were beautiful. The crocus were very small, but that just may have been the type that they were.

    I chuckled at CindyP’s experience with the accidently dropped bulbs blooming in her yard.

  10. I have a small container garden, and the amount of mistakes that I did when I first started (and I still do) are many. I found that sometimes it’s the best way to learn though, it tests the limit of plants, particularly when you forget to water them all winter, you prune them to the ground leaving them for dead, and they grow right back in spring. I guess the uncontrollable nature of things is what makes gardening fun.

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