Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ordering Spring Bulbs – Tulips

Now is the time to order bulbs to plant this fall for blooms in the spring. Tulips are a dilemma, their allure is intense, they come in so many colors and sizes and shapes and their beauty rivals the great peonies and iris. The simple singles are elegant and jewel colored. The doubles are lush and voluptuous. And little compares with the parrots in their myriad flaming colors for pure flamboyancy. The tulips below are pink parrots.
So what is the dilemma? They are not hard to grow. You put them in the ground and next spring tulips appear. But they are not easy to keep. Aside from the little species tulips they are not very perennial; after they flower the bulbs tend to divide themselves into little bulbs. They can be dug up and grown on for a few years to make new big plants but I don’t know of anyone, other than the Dutch bulb companies, who do this. Or they can be left in the ground to come back as smaller and smaller plants and flowers each year.
But in reality, one doesn’t even get to watch the dwindling plants very often since they are great favorites of all the little creatures that live (very happily I am sure) below our gardens. Often they find the newly planted bulbs even before the first year’s flowers. Few gardeners really enjoy buying this expensive rodent food. So what to do? Not growing tulips is simply not an option, they are too beautiful, and in my opinion the most beautiful ones cannot even be purchased as cut flowers.

How To Grow Tulips
I have found a few “solutions” none of which are particularly satisfactory. They can be soaked in a rodent repellant before planting and if the infestation is not too intense most will come up the first year. (After that they become dinner). More successful is to plant them in big sunken pots. I have lots of the ugly big green pots that shrubs come in and these work very well. I simply dig a big hole and put in the pot. Then I put in about half of the soil, set in the bulbs and cover with the rest of the dirt. You can even do several layers if the pot is big enough or put a layer of smaller bulbs (crocus or chiondoxa or something) on top.
Sometimes I have a space right in the garden where I want tulips so I sink the pot right there. Otherwise I will sink them in the vegetable garden and dig up the pot in the spring and put it where I want it. You don’t need to cover the pot with chicken wire since the varmints go throw the ground sideways not from on top. You can use this method with crocus another great critter favorite but in that case I think the chicken wire is needed to protect the tiny bulbs.
You can leave the tulips in the ground in these pots and you will continue to get tulips for a few years though usually they will get smaller each year.

Great Swaths of Tulips
Occasionally I need to treat myself to a great swath of tulips. This is an expensive treat since I do it realizing that it is a one time event. The purple tulips garden in the first picture is an example of this. To me it was worth the effort and the expense, it was glorious and with all the different tulips it lasted for weeks. I bought tulips in all different shapes and sizes but all purples. Singles, doubles, mostly dark purple, with a few lilac colors. My husband removed the sod from the lawn in front of an old lilac and I planted the bulbs into the earth with a long trowel. Then we put the sod back on top. It is important to use ground that is not part of the garden so the critters will not find the bulbs the first year.
The first year was beautiful, the second year I had a bloom or two, none since. It was worth it to me but I won’t be able to afford it again at least until my daughter finishes college.

There are many wonderful bulb companies. A favorite is , a true labor of love by founder Scott Kunst. is Old House Gardens. (http://www.oldhousegardens.com. The catalogue is devoted to the preservation of antique and rare bulbs, many of which would have been lost to gardeners forever without his efforts. The catalogue itself is beautiful both on line and in print. Many of the bulbs offered are not available anywhere else. He even has true Rembrandt or broken tulips, the focus of the great tulip frenzy. I read this catalogue from cover to cover. It is full of good information and dazzling descriptions. The drawback is that you will want everything.

A Tulip Find.

These little blue tulip earrings are vintage German beads from the 1940’s set on hand crafted ear wires by executeme ( http.www.executeme.etsy.com). They are only $20 and they won’t disappear over winter like the real ones. She has many other lovely flower earrings in her shop.

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