An Underground Affair

First published in Greenwoman #4, December 2012.


“Naked Ladies” by Laura Chilson


Do you remember your first kiss? How about your first lover? Well, during winter, that’s what we gardeners must do. We must remember the sweet earth of our gardens, even while it’s blanketed and hibernating under ice and snow. I’m living without my husband again, therefore, my sexual relationship is nil. If you’d like to think of me engaging in infidelity, go for it. I’m boringly devoted, though. Ignore that for this column. Let’s pretend I’m very naughty and am having an affair with the bulb. Like winter can be for gardeners, traipsing around with the memory of luscious dirt on our hands and longing for that tactile transference between hands and earth, we can envision all the boyfriends (and girlfriends) of our past in full detail. I remember one of my Berlin boyfriends, when I lived there as a nanny, to have a particularly sweet breath when he blew on my ear. Oh my, here we go. I’m planting the memories of every Berlin boyfriend in the ground this fall. What will spring bring me?

What possibly can a currently sexless gal say about sex in the garden at this time of year? My friends tell me—talk  about the produce section, sexy vegetables like cucumbers and the longer sweet potatoes. But I’m thinking of a certain tactile tuber, glabrous yet man-like. And the image of a flowering naked lady. Although these “naked lady” bulbs don’t grow in Colorado, in my California childhood I planted them with my grandmother. Grandmothers can be sexy, c’mon. Instead of a MILF, the ones who hold bulbs in their hands loosely, and drop them gently into the crevice of the ground, those are called GILFs.

That particular bulb got its name or its “nakedness” from their bulbous promise, when they jut forward in Spring, thrusting up only green spikes, without anything to show, naked, in fact, until at the ends form a bulky bud. When their flower pulses forth, opening into, in this case, an amaryllis, their ruddy pinks aren’t bashful as they dance in your front yard.

Which bulbs give you the most wham-bam-thank you-Ma’am for your buck? There are too many to list but some of my faves are the many hybrids of tulips. Plant them anytime; but usually, in Colorado, you’ll need to open the earth as it still offers a supple surface, mostly in late September or October. Crocus, hyacinth, and mini-daffodils cluster around the spring, popping color at your feet, as if you are the queen and they cower and lust for your presence. Plant the tiny joys around the tall and papery iris and you’ll be sure to excite anyone walking by in spring.

Not all bulbs are bulbs. You can’t be fooled by their testi-like appearance. Corms are described as being “swollen, underground” and only have one “growing point.” A gladiola and crocus have this base. There are rhizomes which lay on their backs, growing horizontal. Lily of the valley will take over a whole yard, inseminating the air with their heavy scent, but only in milder climates with enough humidity (U of I, 2012). Denver would have to exhale, all at once, an exalted breath after sex, to create that kind of humidity. Tubers mass-propagate the dahlia and begonia, bulbs broad in the middles, pulsating out in bunches under the surface tuft (Dave’s Garden, 2012).

What can a gardener do with these tempting underground treasures? There are so many bulbs, and so much lust for the earthen tubers. One bulb enthusiast had a positive experience planting the naked lady, or amaryllis, in Tucson. She wrote, “I’m from Tucson, AZ and my Uncle Charlie brought some bulbs out from Minnesota to me. . . I have planted them on the west side of my home but has afternoon shade from my Southern Oak trees.” Joan Bolten (2012) of Santa Barbara Garden Design claims on her blog: “In August, the show begins, seemingly overnight. Stout, brownish-purplish stems rise rapidly out of the earth.” The rising is what sustains our thoughts through winter. In spring, as with all creatures, the libido returns, and our buried jewels thrust up from a cracked, warm earth.

Bulbs are like an orgasm, they will burst forth in folds if you coax them out of the ground. Bulbs promise spring sex, and, during the winter, we can envision scenes of their jutting forth. Plant them in Fall, and sense their growing interest, as they sustain your enthusiasm through winter. One day you will see flat dirt. The next, a shoot will be unsheathed, and finally, you’ll see gold, purple, reds, oranges, and pinks dot and dance, undulating and naked. What would my grandmother think of this carnal scene? Well, she’s the one who planted them. I’m sure she remembers all the boyfriends of her past, too. We’re all human.


  1. Joan Bolten, Santa Barbara Garden Design,
  2. University of Illinois Extension. (U of I). 2012
  3. Dave’s Garden

ElisabethBorderFF copy

Born in Northern California, Elisabeth Kinsey was raised among her Italian and Jewish families. She is pursuing a PhD at the University of Denver. She teaches writing (redundant but rewarding), and her published works appear in Greenwoman Magazine, Ask Me About My Divorce, Seal Press, Wazee Journal, The Rambler, and Emergency Press among other journals. Elisabeth can be called upon to speak about: divorce, zone 5 gardening, and Northern Italian cooking.

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