That Fall-Bulb-Planting-Ritual-Thingy

What we make do with instead of tulips:
Hippeastrum 'Apple Blossom'

I've been fascinated by many blog posts from the eastern US and the UK about the fall-bulb-planting-ritual. My knees hurt reading accounts of tulips, crocus, daffodils--three or four hundred of each going into the garden. The digging techniques, throbbing backs, chilled hands, muddy feet, the need for muck boots--what the heck is a muck boot--the expense, the pouring over bulb catalogues. Wow. All this autumnal activity going on back eastwards while I'm sitting in the shade by the koi pond, tossing in food pellets and drinking lemonade.

We don't quite have that autumn-bulb ritual here. A little of it, sure: the beginning or the transplanted gardeners putting in doomed-to-fail tulips and such like. If you want to absolutely guarantee a heat wave in February, carefully pre-chill and plant tulips. Exactly as the flowers emerge the heat will melt them. The more expensive the bulbs, the hotter, longer, and drier the February. It's a given.

The experienced Southern California gardeners may be adding more Freesias or Babianas or the native Douglas Iris, or holiday-gift Hippeastrum got on sale the day after Christmas to be planted in the garden for May bloom, but bulb-planting is not the ritual it is in climates with, you know, frost. In those lands, bulbs are harbingers of spring, the first wave of life reawakened that will give way to roses and lilacs and all the rest.

Here the harbinger of spring is not bulbs. It's winter, for winter means rain. We cross our fingers, not in hopes of a avoiding a late frost, but that we get rain, precious rain, enough to fill the reservoirs and keep the drought-police at bay, water enough to soak deeply, but not so deeply that the hillsides slide out from under us. Our ritual is watching and thinking and hoping for rain, of tracking the inches as avidly as World Series runs-batted-in.

Pouring Rain

Tulips--we buy a bunch at the grocery store, if we must. If it rains, we're so excited, we're outside taking pictures of it. We're not color-starved: we've had aloes and roses and camellias and azaleas blooming all winter. It's different here. Not better, just different. If you would understand, Easterners and Brits, Canadians and Norwegians, if you are baffled when you see us dancing in the (wet) streets after a long, generous rain (one whole inch!), think: "spring bulbs".



  1. I'm starting to think about saving rainwater in a metal cistern that can hold about 700 gallons. Found good-looking ones from an Austin, Texas company. An inch of rain running off the roof results in mucho gallons of water from one storm.

    And I've got my tulips tucked into the fridge. Last year's were amazing, but only for pots that can be moved, never in the ground. Don't know why amaryllis just seem undoable to me.

  2. I thought I read somewhere that a 2000 sq ft roof will provide 10K gallons per inch of rain. It's a lot of water we are sending back to the sea unused...

    1. The figure I have always heard/read is that every 1,000 square feet of roof area will collect 623 gallons in a 1" rain. (I wonder if Denise's metal cistern company is where I got mine -- Texas Metal Cisterns. Really good-looking cisterns.)

    2. Yes you are correct not me Devon. Where did I get that errant figure? Was it for our YEARLY rainfall of about 12-15" per year? (not for 1" of rain). What was I thinking? I messed up somewhere. Anyway, thanks for the correction. About 600 gallons per inch of rain per 1000 square feet of roof. 1200 gallons per 2000 sq feet of roof, 12,000/gallons per 10" of rain...I do dream of a cistern.


Post a Comment

Always interested in your thoughts.

Any comments containing a link to a commercial site with the intent to promote that site will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding on this matter.

Popular Posts