Friday, October 24, 2008

The Importance of Stratification

Spring-Flowering bulbs fascinate me. It’s time to plant crocus, snowdrops, daffodils and so on, which always strikes me as odd. None of these are buried anywhere deep enough to escape freezing, so why plant them now? Wouldn’t in make more sense to wait until spring, when the ground thaws and then plant our bulbs?

The truth is, bulbs absolutely will freeze, but that freezing doesn’t kill them. In fact, like so many other nascent life forms, certain seeds for example, bulbs need a period of stratification, or time spent in a cold environment. Even knowing this, I find it an act of faith to go out on the hillside behind my place and plant spring-flowering bulbs in October.

Besides buying some bulbs to plant outside, I always reserve a few for forcing indoors. I use hyacinth for this, since they are by far the most fragrant. Along about the end of February, when my winter-weary soul cries for some sign of spring, I’ll take my bulbs out of the refrigerator (these, too, need their period of stratification) and place them in a special, bulb-forcing jar. Then just when I need them the most, my bulbs break out in a burst of color and heady fragrance.

Probably we humans, too, need our time of stratification. I know that even though I inwardly complain about winter, I could never find joy in a place that had no winter. It’s the contrast of the seasons, point-and-counterpoint that adds spice and interest to life. Live out my days walking on some tropical beach in a place that never sees a frost? No thank you, that’s not for me.

So I’ll begrudgingly accept my enforced period of stratification. That way, the coming spring will be all the sweeter.

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