It’s no secret that I suffer from the horticultural version of the My Eyes Are Bigger than My Stomach Syndrome. I can still hear my mother’s words every time I helped myself to a bigger portion than I could ever finish.
Sadly, overeating comes easy to me, now that I’m an adult. But I have developed a problem when it comes to buying more plants than I have room for. My eyes are bigger than my garden, and it’s not something I’m proud of. Over the years, I admit to more than once delivering the lie (with a straight face), “Look what I bought for only $15,” when I run into my husband while unloading $300 worth of random, impulse buys from the back of my car. Many of those plants suffered in their hot, black plastic pots for months, only to be to roughly shoehorned into all-the-wrong places in the garden at all-the-wrong planting times. Some plants couldn’t wait that long and quietly gave up and died. Not counting squirrels, gardeners may be the most acquisitive creatures on Earth.
I’m not discouraging retail therapy. Life is hard, and buying new plants can sure help. But something changed for me this season. I feel oddly at peace with my garden, just the way it is. When I do find a space that needs filling, I move a chunk of common, ordinary, self-seeded Verbena bonariensis from another part of the garden and call it good.
Another remarkable thing happened. For years, I’ve been trying to establish “Lauren’s Grape” poppies, and failed every time. My luck changed. Remember when Yakima had several days of temperatures in the 50s last January? It was enough to send me flying around the garden, worried that spring was just around the corner. I cleared a row in my cutting garden and, ever hopeful, sprinkled an umpteenth baggie full of “Lauren’s Grape” seeds. It’s funny now, but at the time, I worried how I would water them until the irrigation came on.
The next week brought the first of many blankets of snow, which didn’t melt until March. That’s when I noticed the tiny seedlings, and recently, fuzzy buds of violet-purple are rising from frilly blue-green foliage. What I know about poppies is that even if I only have 10 this year, that’s all I’ll ever need. Poppies reseed exponentially, and that’s fine with me.
I did have one setback. I ordered 30 new dahlia tubers from several small boutique growers that my children (apples don’t roll far from trees) have been raving about. I know I said earlier that I didn’t buy any new plants, but the dahlias don’t count because I used gift certificates.
The tubers arrived in March. In theory, they held the promise of sumptuous summer flowers. In reality, they looked dead, lacking any obvious growing eyes. “Just be patient,” I reassured myself, “and the eyes will pop like they always do.” But a gardener’s faith can be a fragile thing.
I read on a blog that there was a way to speed up the “eying” process. All you do is put some moist potting soil in a ziplock bag, place your tuber on top, and partially close the bag. Set it someplace warm (room temperature) and bright (out of direct sun). Within a week or two you’ll see eyes emerging from the crown just below the old stem. That’s the hallelujah moment we’ve been waiting for. The eyed-up tuber is ready to plant in the garden, and has the advantage of a head start. If it’s too early to plant outside, gardeners are instructed to plant the tuber in a 1-gallon pot and grow it in a sunny window until the weather warms. This extra step yields dahlias that bloom at least a month earlier.
I had a lot of tubers, so I decided to improvise. Instead of using individual bags, I filled a 12-by-18-inch nursery tray with moist potting soil and covered it with a dozen of my new tubers. I slid the whole shebang into a clear vinyl blanket bag, zippered it shut, and left it in my greenhouse. Two days later, when I opened the bag to take a peek, the soil in the tray was actually steaming. Seriously, it must have been 200 degrees inside that bag. I cooked my dahlia tubers. I could have mashed them with butter and served them for dinner.
Here’s proof, once again, that the devil is in the details. Another thing I hear my mother saying was, “When all else fails, read the directions.”