Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bulb choices, the slightly political version

Bulb selection continues. To help assess which varieties of tulips, irises, and daffodils partner best, I pull together image files from suppliers' on-line catalogues. This spring, a sloping side bed should sport these bulbs, courtesy of John Scheepers.

As I was busily dragging and dropping--and wondering how folks made these visual comparisons back before computers--I recollected the wonderful bulb books that my mother used. These were 5 x 8-inch ring binders with each page illustrating a different bulb. The paper was heavy and glossy, the colors were saturated, and the names were exotic ("Queen of the Night," "Princess Irene," "Trevithian"). Even for a kid, this was intriguing stuff.

You could open the binder, remove pages, and lay them out like playing cards next to each other, bundling together "Cheerfulness," "Sweetness," and "Tete a Tete" into a friendly group, or spicing up the scene with a dash of "Adonis."

A big box of the bulb books arrived at our house every spring. Sales of the featured bulbs supported my mother's college alumnae association. She was a tireless volunteer: many an evening she'd sit at the kitchen table, telephone to ear, as she extolled the virtues of these bulbs to her garden club colleagues. She'd drive from house to house, dropping off and picking up bulb books and, a month later, delivering bulb orders. My mother must have been pretty darn good at the gentle art of persuasion--she was a native Washingtonian, after all--because her alumnae association rewarded her efforts with a Dutch trip to enjoy the gardens at Keukenhof, the Aalsmeer flower auction, and Haarlem flower parade. Here she is, in April 1976, posing with two equally elegant companions in the Castle Garden at Keukenhof.

I'll side-step the obvious political observation about the skills and capabilities of alumnae from Southern women's colleges. My mother would have dodged it, too. And then gone out to work in her garden.

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