To A Faded Fragrance

THE REAL DIRT

April 18, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Daffodils are up, heating bills are down, and birds are singing all around. All the harbingers of spring are here, save one.

I can't find Whitey, my favorite hyacinth.

Whitey is not where he ought to be in the garden. This is not like Whitey. He is always there to greet me in spring, unfurling that jade-green foliage and sweet-scented, cream-colored flower.

This year is different. Whitey's bed looks like it hasn't been slepin. Emerging hyacinths always disrupt the soil, sending clodbursts in all directions. But Whitey's bed looks smooth. Unbroken. Sterile.

I've tried to find my fragrant friend. I tapped on the ground above Whitey's bulb. No answer. Perhaps he overslept? I dug out 1 inch of soil, then 2, hoping to meet Whitey on his way up. But I found no trace of life there.

This is most depressing, because Whitey is more than my favorite hyacinth.

He's my only hyacinth.

Whitey is the last of a dying breed, the lone survivor of the two dozen hyacinth bulbs I planted 15 years ago.

I went bulb-crazy that autumn. There were windmills on the covers of all my garden catalogs. I bought tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths, and planted them all with painstaking care. Each hyacinth bulb landed pointed-end up in a hole precisely 5 inches deep, to which a handful of bone meal fertilizer had been added.

Spring brought a real Dutch treat: The yard was awash in spectacular whorl of colors and scents, from dainty crocuses to elegant tulips that appeared hand-painted.

But the hyacinths were the jewels of the bulb bed. Thes columnar spires of starry flowers caught my eye and captured my heart, not to mention my sense of smell. I was instantly addicted to these aromatic blossoms. I would kneel before them for minutes at a time, inhaling their fragrance and hoping it would never run out.

I guess I looked pretty silly, resting there on all fours and hyperventilating, with my nose glued to a flower. When my wife asked me to be more discreet, I found myself deliberately brushing against the heavy spikes of pink, purple, red and white, while working in the yard, in order to steal a whiff of nature's perfume.

Sometimes I'd sneak outside at night, assume the position and sniff to my heart's content.

Once I came home to find my wife had picked a handful of hyacinths and spread them around the house. I hadn't the heart to cut the flowers myself, but since the deed was done I raced from room to room, sampling smells and gulping great breaths of sweet air.

I found Whitey sitting in a vase in the bathroom. I showered twice and brushed my teeth three times that night.

Eventually the hyacinth flowers in the garden succumbed, and I mourned their passing. But I dutifully cut the faded blooms and the foliage, after the leaves withered, enabling the plants to build strength for future flowers.

"See you next spring," I told them.

Alas, only half the hyacinths returned for an encore, and none lived up to its rookie season, including Whitey. Yet the smaller blossoms still brought me to my knees. That year, I bought a pair of kneepads to use while smelling the hyacinths.

Gradually, their numbers dwindled until Whitey alone remained. I felt cheated. Publicly, I blamed the hyacinths, which generally weaken with age. But I know it was I who actually hastened their demise.

I could have extended the plants' lives. I could have fertilized them each spring. I could have lifted the bulbs and divided them each fall. But I didn't. The first time the hyacinths failed me, I got mad and ignored them, just when they needed me most.

Now Whitey is gone, and I've run out of hyacinths. There's only one thing left to do.

Pay no attention to the 220-pound man hyperventilating in your flower bed. I'll be gone in a minute. Maybe two.

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