Oh, what promise there is in a flower bulb. Ugly and dirtbound it may be — dressed in a papery tunic, a knot of roots at the base — but what a tiny package of color and delight it holds within.
Ted Farber had an affection for bulbs, for the paint box profusion of tulips and the warm glow of daffodils. He was a scientist — a toxicologist who worked for the FDA and the EPA — and he approached gardening with a degree of rigor. He grew digitalis in a medicinal herb garden at his Rockville home. But he was open to the random as well.
“My father had his method,” said his daughter Sandy. “When I brought him bulbs, he would throw them all on a tarp and mix them all up; then we would go and put them down and plant them.”
Not for him ordered rows and regimented colors. Ted liked an explosion of petals. He had his dislikes, too. He hated chrysanthemums, for example. “My parents never planted chrysanthemums,” Sandy said. “I think he hated the smell of them.”
He passed his love of gardening to Sandy, who is coordinator of the D.C. Master Gardener program for UDC’s Cooperative Extension Service.
After Ted got a diagnosis of a brain tumor in April, Sandy measured the progress of the disease against the developments in her Columbia garden. “I can tell you everything I planted,” she said. “I could see in different stages of his illness how the leaves came out, how the different plants grew and bloomed.”
Ted died May 23. He was 75.
Ted was Jewish, and Sandy said it’s traditional in that faith to plant a tree to remember the deceased. She thought it would be more appropriate to plant bulbs — lots of bulbs. She purchased 2,800 bulbs from Pennsylvania’s Benevolent Bulb, choosing a variety of yellow tulip called Bronze Charm and a type of daffodil called Cheerfulness, which blooms a creamy white.
She donated them to gardening groups across the city, and over the last few weekends, they’ve been busy with their trowels. Bulbs have been planted at All Nation’s Baptist Church on North Capitol Street; in a playground at Girard Street NW; at Jubilee Jumpstart, a low-income day-care facility in Adams Morgan; between the recreation center and library in Chevy Chase; in tree boxes across from the convention center; at Tubman Elementary School on 13th Street NW. . . .
“Lo and behold, a good stretch of the city is being planted,” Sandy said. “The requirement is it has to be in public viewing, in full sun.”
I asked Sandy why her dad loved gardening so much. “Part of it was being outdoors,” she said. “The other part was to take something ordinary and make it beautiful.”
The days grow dark; the nights grow cold. But winter’s chill is exactly what a bulb needs to start its internal clock. Spring will come. What promise there is in a flower bulb.
Last Thursday, I printed the briefest of vignettes about a hot dog man preparing his cart for a rainstorm. I watched him as I waited for my lunch date at 20th and M NW.
It seems that we should meet him. Mohamed Ahmed — Mo, as his regulars call him — has been at that corner for 21 years, working pretty much every weekday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
He’s from Alexandria originally — the one in Egypt — and was a photographer there. After Mo immigrated to the United States, his brother-in-law asked if he wanted to try being a street corner food vendor. Mo sometimes marvels that 21 years have gone by. He lives in Falls Church and keeps a photo of his 12-year-old daughter up inside his cart.
In the summer, it gets brutally hot in there — near 130 degrees on some days — but in the winter it’s lovely and warm, the interior kept toasty by the steam trays.
Mo has witnessed the recent explosion of food trucks that crisscross the city offering such interesting fair as Maine lobster rolls and Korean bibimbap, but he says that’s not for him. The food trucks are nomadic. He’d rather be in one place, with the same customers, customers he’s come to know well over two decades, so well that he can start making their orders as they walk up to him, before they even say, “Hey Mo, I’ll have the usual.”