Conor Kelly: A City Dweller's Guide To Garden Flowers

"Search me," I said. "I'm a city boy myself. They must
be crocuses."                Saul Bellow - Humboldt's Gift

They must be crocuses. That's where I read,
in a book I bought at a car-boot sale –
The Pocket Guide to Garden Flowers and Plants
both how and when they should be hosed and fed
that they might bloom in summer and not fail
to glow in sunshine and, in wind, to dance.

They must be hyacinths. I learn to force
the tiny bulbs to slowly grow indoors
by keeping them for weeks with exposed tips
in a basement room until, in due course,
I then transplant the early growth outdoors
and lightly water their expanding strips.

They must be daffodils. When, every year,
as harbinger of the emerging spring,
the green stalks rise and grow and reach a height
at which the yellow trumpet-heads appear
and glow, before I tie them down with string,
I celebrate Wordsworthian delight.

They must be peonies. I buy a tray
of small herbaceous tubers, place them where,
beside a path that leads to my front gate,
the sun will shine the most throughout the day.
I add some compost to the soil, some hair
(an old wives tale). And then I learn to wait.

They must be marigolds. When soil is warm
and when the ground is free of winter frost,
I moisten where I want to sow the seed
and, waiting for the blossoms to perform
their copper-coloured bloom, their bright heads tossed
in a light breeze, I use egg-shells as feed.

They must be zinnias. When winter's done
I plant the semi-double-flowered seeds
on different days each week that they may grow
and bloom – a different week, a different one.
I space them out according to their needs
and mine. And then I wait to watch them glow.

They must be dahlias. The other day,
with my garden kneeler and a small spade,
I measured out four spaces by the fence
and dug six inches deep in sodden clay
and squashed roots where I wanted flowers displayed
in colours that are varied, bright, intense.

They must be sunflowers. When, in time, they grow
to their full height above the garden wall
they dwarf the flowers around them as they turn
their heads to trace the sun from high to low
while still remaining straight, resplendent, tall
till, in late summer, like the sun, they burn.

Three sunflower heads above a stone wall