Round Robin: Sober Planting

| August/September 1995

DENVER, Colorado—I feel most useful in the garden when I’m planting. With trowel in hand, it’s never the end of the season, just the beginning of the next, no matter what the calendar says. Some people lose all their enthusiasm by the end of the season. A common refrain is, “I just wish it would freeze and end it all.” These are not spunky people. Sure, things go awry during the course of the summer—it’s been too hot, too cool, too wet, too dry, too buggy, too sluggy.

When the going gets tough, the tough get planting. I use my trowel like a shoehorn. My borders may be full and overflowing, but that doesn’t stop me. I sow seeds of perennials (herbal and otherwise) in pots outside in winter, and they germinate in spring; in June, I move the seedlings into individual 21/4-inch pots. By now, the husky young plants are ready to face life in the ground.

I prefer autumn to spring planting for several reasons. The soil is warm: it holds heat well into November, so young plants can spread their roots deeply into the soil.

With the existing perennials at full height and spread, it’s easier for me to gauge how the youngsters will look among them next season. If I wait until spring, when everything is a few inches tall, I really have to draw on my powers of imagination. I’m so giddy in spring that my imagination runs away with me. Bizarre combinations result, sometimes too much even for me.

I’m more horticulturally sober this time of year, and I can take my time setting the pots around. I study the effect they’ll make, confirm that I’m giving them the right exposure, and imagine how they’ll interact with their new neighbors.

Autumn is traditionally bulb-planting season, but a select group of bulbs need to go in the ground in late August and early September here. These are the fall-blooming crocuses. They’re easy to plant: the corms need only be set 3 to 4 inches deep in well-drained soil in a sun-drenched spot, and they bloom the very first year.

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