Dear Hortense Hoelove: Horticultural Senility?

Tulipa humilis 'Eastern Star'
Someone left a question for Hortense Hoelove on my Facebook page. Hortense has agreed to answer it.

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

"How does one overcome a persistent case of horticultural senility? This condition seems to manifest itself in 1 of 2 ways. Often I see snowdrops, crocus, and early iris blooming in my neighbor's yard, and I determine to plant the same beauties in my own garden the coming fall. But when fall arrives, horticultural senility sets in, and I never even buy the bulbs. Other springs, I see beautiful flowers pop up in places that I SWEAR I never planted anything -- again: horticultural senility. What to do??"

Delisa in Wisconsin

Dear Delisa,

First of all, thank you for the question!  I'm happy to answer it, but are you sure it is really a case of "horticultural senility"? It could perhaps be...

Gardener's Attention Distraction Syndrome (GADS).  This is the condition that causes gardeners to start out intent on completing one activity in the garden, but then they see something else that needs to be done, say to themselves, "gads, I need to do that now", then they stop and do that, which leads to yet something else to do. They repeat this cycle until they have completely forgotten what they were originally going to do.  This constant shifting of focus, of doing one task and then another without really ever finishing anything, is quite common in gardeners. 

Horticultural amnesia - This often occurs when someone important or highly respected is visiting your garden, often for the first time. You immediately can not remember any of the names of the plants in your garden. Perhaps you are merely suffering from a type of temporary amnesia? Out of sight, out of mind?

Some kind of phobia -- Many people have phobias related to gardening, including kipourikosphobia, which is a fear of gardening. The fear of bulbs is known as bolbusphobia, so says I. Maybe you have a fear of flower bulbs and so block out thoughts of them in the fall?

Or perhaps you don't really like these flowers as much as you think you do?  Well, certainly that can't be it. What's not to like about:



Little early irises:

All growing in Hortense's own garden.

Honestly, I do not really see this failure to plant bulbs as a sign of horticultural senility. Actually horticultural senility doesn't really exist like you think it might.

What I suspect is that you live in a constant state of GADS.

To combat this, go right now to an online resource to order some bulbs for this fall. They will not ship the bulbs until closer to the time to plant them, if they know what they are doing.

Then forget about the bulbs until they arrive in the fall. When they do finally arrive, you'll wonder why you got them, assume they are some kind of gift (and they are a gift -- to you from you) and promptly plant them. After all, you won't know who they are from and you'll want to have the bulbs blooming in the spring, in case that person happens to stop by to see how they did.

As for seeing beautiful flowers pop up in places where you SWEAR you didn't plant them... relax. That also is not horticultural senility. It's the garden fairies playing tricks on you. If you don't believe me, go out to your garden, act very surprised to see a flower in a particular spot, then listen closely for the sounds of little fairies laughing at you.

That'll turn you into a believer!

Thank you so much for the questions, I hope this was helpful.

Hortense Hoelove


  1. Dear Hortense, if I may be so bold as to call you that, thank you for explaining that there is no senility, horticulturally speaking. What a relief! :-)

  2. oh my..the visual of fairies laughing at our surprise is have the MOST wonderfully imaginative mind...

  3. Thank you so much for correcting my misdiagnosis! I most certainly suffer from GADS. (Which clearly has extended from my gardening into all of my other daily activities.) I will try your suggested remedy, and will hope that this fall I can actually get my bulbs planted before the ground freezes. (Again - an obvious manifestation of GADS. Or maybe just horticultural good intentions..."I INTENDED to get those bulbs in the ground....")

    Horticultural amnesia, I do not have! My friends, family, and guests can attest to this. I all too often subject these poor folks to my own brand of "hortitorture" in "oh, look here...a lovely Athyrium felix-femina; and here is my favorite Arisaema triphyllum!" But that's a question for a different day! Thanks, Hortense!

  4. My problem isn't amnesia or neglect, but poverty. The spring garden demands so much money that I rarely have anything to invest on bulbs this time of year. Someday, right?

  5. Here's a way to thwart those garden fairies: take photos of where you planted the bulbs with a label from them next to the planting site. It's helped me keep my garden fairies in line. If only that worked for the squirrels...

  6. My faeries were especially active about 5 year ago. They planted fish eggs in my pond. We are sure we didn't plant the fish there, but we certainly are glad they have been entrusted to us.

  7. you have a great analytical mind! I have GADS very bad. Perfectly functioning in my out of the garden life, but once I'm out there...

  8. Dear Hortense,

    I seemed to have all the garden ailments mentioned in your article plus one more. I was going to tell you about it but I forgot what it was. Maybe if i stroll around my garden aimlessly wondering what I am suppose to be doing, as usual, I will remember the name of the disorder. Thanks,

  9. My favorite experience with horticultural senility involved forgetting I HAD bought the bulbs I coveted and having a wonderful surprise when they bloomed.

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