Last weekend, I cleared away a thick matting of wet leaves and underneath found small clusters of dark green spears, the promise of oriental poppies. Soon, the leaves will layer out and spread in a ruffled circle, framing flowers of raspberry, burgundy, dusty pink and plum, with petals as fragile as tissue. Although their blooms are delicate, these plants are hardy perennials, the flamboyant showpieces of my spring garden. I worked gently, hoping to find sprouts of other plants hiding under a winter’s worth of soggy leaves. Late last summer and into the fall, I did a major redesign of our front garden, including moving several Japanese anemones. In a few months, their pale pink blossoms will drape gracefully over the decorative fencing at the front of our garden. I also transplanted some stand-alone phlox, delphiniums, bellflowers and hollyhocks, and grouped them into more eye-catching clusters.

To make room for those plants, I evicted dozens of bulbs, which I planned to recycle into the perennials’ original, now empty, spots. But impetuous gardeners often fail to pass their time-management classes — and, when the weather iced up, I realized I’d missed my deadline. I ended up stashing the naked bulbs in the garden shed until January, when I finally planted them in shallow containers on our patio. This month, I expected to move them, still in containers, to the front garden, and flaunt those blooming tulips and daffodils.

I’d worked on Project Transplant during the hottest days of August and September, not the best time to uproot well-established plants. So last weekend, I worried I might find only dead stalks underneath the wet leaves. But, thanks to a miracle from the garden goddess, most of the travelers had overwintered well, and I saw wisps of new growth. My newly leaf-free garden exposed a new problem, though: wide, round empty patches of dirt, where tulips and daffs should have been poking their pointy little heads above ground. If only I’d transplanted them last fall.

I still felt hopeful, though, because a few patio bulbs already were showing some life. I sensed a brainstorm blowing through my mind. Instead of displaying the flowers in their containers, I would transplant the bulbs now, directly into the garden’s empty spots. I checked one of the few emerging tulips and saw only two puny leaves and a shriveling kernel of bulb. Then I gently poked around in the planters for the hordes of late bloomers waiting underground — and found nothing but potting soil and squirrel poop. So, patches of my spring garden will be a study in minimalism this year. At least I’d checked the nonexistent inventory before I spent hours fluffing up the empty beds. Tiptoe through the tulips? I could have done a standing broad jump without trampling any of those no-shows.

The week’s sunny news is the semi-stellar performance of my chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten. He understands the phrase, “It’s garden time, Ben,” although his attitude usually is, “Who cares?” But last weekend, he trotted out behind me and put in a solid half hour of lounging, while I cleared away the leaves. Then he humiliated himself by parking under the bird feeder, tilting his head up and opening his mouth wide. Maybe he expected a chickadee sandwich to fly in. Take a break, BBK, I suggested. As he stalked onto the porch, I could hear the birds laughing.


Sydney Craft Rozen needs only three dozen more weekends to finish her spring gardening chores. Email her at scraftroze@aol.com.

Recommended for you