The Bulbs We Planted

This is the first article in April of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on April 4, 1909, and is an article on planting spring-time bulbs.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Bulbs We Planted

IN SETTING pen to paper below the title inscribed above, I confess to a mighty temptation to moralize upon the glamour of human hopes and the varying results that attend upon our planting.

Pushing this aside, I fall a victim to the more sensible inclination to insert here and now an extract from a bewitching letter from a Chicago woman who treats of bulb culture, together with a variety of other topics. If I had a valid excuse for publishing her communication entire, our members should have it. As it passes from theme to theme, swiftly and gracefully, getting honey for each, the rest of the epistle must wait until occasion justifies the publication.

Have I ever told in the exchange the story of the boy who asked his mother “if the old moons were not cut up into little stars when they got too small to be used as moons?” It is one of my pet anecdotes, and I apply it to the letter in hand. The little stars—all bright—will twinkle forth in due time.

Good Luck.

As a beginning: “I will give my experience in raising Chinese lilies, in answer to Mrs. A.R. (Chicago).

“My younger days were passed in California, and every year our Chicago house servant gave us the bulbs, and said if they bloomed by New Year’s Day we would have ‘good luck’ that year.

“If you grow them in water, they will never bloom again in water. If, however, you plant them in the ground after they have finished blooming in water, they will come up every year, and at the end of five years (!) they will blossom again, and every year after that. I did as he told me, and found all true. He said, also, that if they were planted in earth the first time, they would always bloom yearly. I never tried that, so I cannot vouch for the truth of it.

A Showcase Fernery.

“The description and the picture of your fernery made me homesick. I made one, when in California, of a showcase, which may be a hint to those who cannot afford to have an expensive one made. I went to the woods every spring and brought home fresh moss and ferns. It was a constant source of pleasure.

“Some one asked some time ago for the name of the author of a poem beginning:

God might have made the earth bring forth
Enough for great and small;
The oak tree and the cedar three,
Without a flower at all.

“it was written by Mary Hewitt. I have the whole poem of eight verses, which I will copy, if the person referred to has not received it.”

With this true-hearted flower-lover, I am thanking the Giver of every good and perfect gift today that He did not leave the buds and blossoms out of His plan of creation. For in cottage window, in city flats with but one lookout toward sunshine, as in conservatory and greenhouse, the bulbs we planted ten weeks and more agone are answering to the subtle call of spring. The most erudite naturalist knows no more than the illiterate dullard by what mysterious means that call is conveyed to the very heart of the frozen earth. Had we buried our bulbs in boxes of sand and left them in windowless cellars, they would have felt—I can hardly say “heard”—the summons and stirred restlessly in their sleep and darkness. In the reflected sunshine where stands my fernery, and nearer the window, a row of flower pots and bulb glasses, leaves and blossoms (what few there are of these last) lean joyously toward the outer world. I could fancy that I detect an air of anticipation of longer days and a daily slant nearer to their ledge of the vivifying beams which mean warmth and growth the world over.

Mainly Rules.

Hyacinths are the most satisfactory bulbs for the amateur window gardener. They are hardy and sweet natured, as well as generous of fragrance. No other bulb that I know of—if we except that capricious sacred lily of the Chinese—takes so kindly to water. It is better to set them in colored glasses than in clear. The light dallies so long with the roots that the flowering in neglected. I had never heard this until I found out for myself that the blossoms borne by the plants in uncolored and transparent glasses were insignificant by comparison with those set in the colored. I am told that the blue rays are more beneficial to root-growth than any other color.

Apropos of roots, I saw yesterday a curiosity in the form of a sweet potato which was set in the mouth of a Mason fruit jar just before Christmas. The tuber is held in place by a bit of twine, two-thirds of it being submerged in the water that fills the jar. It had not been in this position three days, when hair-like roots shot out from the lower part of the potato, and in a week the top of the tuber followed suit with delicate sprouts, developing into tiny leaves in a fortnight. Now the jar is full of a twisted mass of rampant rootlets that seem to press impatiently against their prison walls, struggling to get into the light. Long attenuated vines hang down on the outside of the jar. Some are two feet in length, some three. All are disconsolate in expression, and the wee leaves are almost white. This, although the jar stands in the full sunlight all day. The strength of the tuber had expended itself on the roots stimulated by the unchecked sunshine.

Some of the Chinese lilies we established, according to rule and order, among clean pebbles in bowls of water hat have been refilled daily have towered aloft into a jungle that looks like a Florida canebrake of spear-shaped leaves, rankly green, but with never a symptom of blossoming. Perhaps they bloomed in water last year, a fact of which the honest florist from whom we bought the bulbs could not have been ignorant. In which case, we must wait four years longer after we plant it in the earth before we may expect another flowering. The revelations of the Chinese butler on this head (or want of head) may well make cautious in our purchases next autumn. Each bulb should be labeled with the date of the last blossoming, and whether this was done by water or on hand.

Freesias have earned a well-merited popularity since their introduction into American gardens a score of years ago. They are easily raised in the window parterre that boasts a fair supply of winter sunlight. I have petted them into pale but odorous flowering in my jardinière, where the slant rays did not visit them until March 1. They take kindly to house culture when planted in rich earth and allow what may be called a living income of sunshine. They are graceful in form, in color a creamy white, with sometimes a dash of warmer orange at the heart, and exquisite in the delicate apricot perfume that is pervasive, yet never cloying.

It would be interesting to know how many of the bulbs we planted at Christmas or thereabouts blossomed at Easter, as we meant them to do. May we not hear from our house gardeners on this point? I promise not to moralize upon the several reports, and to yield hearty sympathy in each experience, be it discouraging or hopeful.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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