Memory Lane: Lily Bulb Rescue

It must have been about this time of year, some four years back, when the local Walmart store received a shipment of bulbs. They were wanting to get ahead of the spring rush, I suppose.

These bulbs were packed in wood shavings and then sealed in plastic bags with small air holes so they didn’t mould and thus perish. The bags were packed in big display boxes; when they arrived at the store these were set up for customers to admire the beautiful display and hopefully purchase the bulbs.

Alas, it was still winter. Those bulbs would have been stored in a dark, cool place until they arrived at Walmart; they suddenly found themselves in a warm, light environment and of course started sending out shoots.

A month later I happened to be in Walmart and wandererd over to the display. Alarm bells started ringing in my head, warning me to keep away from anything living – like plants. I already had a couple of African Violet “rescues” blooming their hearts out, occupying a good deal of space in my house. (In fact they are still thriving and taking up space as I write this, ten years later.) But I yielded to temptation to check out this display of lily bulbs.

I picked up several packages and examined them to see what shape they were in. This is a big No-No for me, because I know what shape Walmart seasonal plants are usually in. But I did check. And they were.

By this time these shoots, reaching for the light in whatever direction it could be found, had grown from three to six inches long. But those tiny bags do not accommodate long shoots. Some had grown a few inches, then turned completely upside down like a U. Some snaked like an S. Some were growing straight sideways. And they had all grown as far as they possibly could. The topmost leaves, crammed up against plastic, would soon start to rot–and for sure be stunted beyond recovery.

This always sets me to fuming a bit. Discount stores like Walmart don’t seem to concern themselves overly much with the care of any living things. I’m so thankful the company quit selling fish for that reason. It’s all about money: plants have a certain time to sell – a time when some effort is put forth to keep them alive – but after that initial period if it lives it lives; if it dies it dies. I know it’s business as usual, but these are living things. They deserve proper care.

I have a soft heart and/or a weak mind. I know it. If I were wandering along some beach at low tide and saw starfish dehydrating in the hot sun, I’d be like that fellow going along tossing them back into the ocean. Some people are just like that. (If you are, I’d advise you not to go near the plant displays in discount stores or your house is going to be very green.)

I weakened. I searched through the plastic bags and found the bulbs with the longest, kinkiest shoots, the ones most in danger of being hopelessly deformed. I did limit myself to three bags, though – three dozen bulbs – and carried them to the cashier, knowing all the while that this could well be some form of insanity.

When I got them home I immediately opened the packages so the poor things could stretch out and breathe. Then what? It would be at least another month until I would even see the garden, now under four feet of snow. I couldn’t leave the bulbs just sit until then.

Fortunately I had a bag of peat moss on hand and half a bag of potting soil, so I got a basin and mixed up a batch of soil, scrounged up some plastic pots and planted the things. I ran out of pots. Looked in the cupboard and found a stack of plastic drinking glasses, so I employed them in my rescue operation.

It was not very easy to plant some the bulbs, as kinky as some of the shoots were. I had to weigh down some of the pots so the heavy shoots hanging upside down over the edge wouldn’t pull the whole pot over. But I planted all thirty-six and set them in our cool windowsill where they’d get the morning sun.

A couple of weeks went by and the shoots redirected themselves upward. Some remained a little kinky at the base, but most of them straightened up nicely. About eight weeks later I planted them in the garden, wondering how they’d take the cool spring nights. They held up well. Every last one survived and grew well.

In July they bloomed – and they were gorgeous. I took a bouquet to the Villa where I work and the folks marvelled at their beauty, their colour and scent. One lady who visited the Villa at that time phoned me up and asked what variety they were. She thought I must have purchased some really special collection.

I told her, “that’s right. I did.”

Do you think plants know when they’re in caring hands?


One thought on “Memory Lane: Lily Bulb Rescue

  1. Last summer in late August I saw a display outside a supermarket marked “Free” which contained shrivelled up onions. I found one bag with scallions that still had some life and I brought them home and planted them. They survived the winter outside (I’m on the coast). We recently had snow and they are poking their heads through the white stuff, but they will take a few degrees of frost and it is only around -1 so they will be fine. I’ll be eating fresh onions before long from the supermarket discards.


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