I’m really bad at delayed gratification. This serves me well in my career as a cook: think of a cake, bake a cake, eat a cake. Repeat as desired. This impatience, however, is a very poor quality indeed in a gardener. So much preparing and tilling and sowing, tending and pruning and nurturing and waiting. Endless sun-scorched, rain-lashed waiting. Gardening is optimism in action.
Fortunately, to keep us cheerful, some of the most glamorous flowers of all sprout quickly and undemandingly, going about the business of turning themselves into objects of beauty and wonder with precious little intervention from us.
Each autumn I go through the Blom’s Bulbs catalogue, seduced by its loving descriptions of colour, form and scent. Soon the catalogue is more Post-it note than paper. I find the descriptions as soothing as a cup of warm milk at bedtime: ‘Extremely strong and free flowering …Showy and weather resistant …Many small lilac flowers in the shape of stars…Lemon yellow cups becoming milk white with age.’
My order just arrived – a pleasingly heavy box filled with brown paper bags labelled with gaudy photographs, the number of bulbs carefully hand written in the top-right-hand corner. It’s astonishing to think that in a few months, these fat, papery bulbs will push through the cold spring soil in a bobbing tide of yellow, orange, purple, pink and white.
It’s easy to understand the tulipomania that engulfed Holland in the 1630s, so beautifully evoked in Deborah Moggach’s luscious novel, Tulip Fever. And as I squint at the greedily long list on my delivery note, I draw a little comfort from the thought that in 1637, a single tulip bulb cost more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. How very lucky we are.