Saturday, October 10, 2015

I'm in Bulb Trouble

In the basement there are, I think, 1300 tulips waiting for the weather and I to be bold enough to invite them out into the garden. You plant bulbs when the earth is cold, and today there were the first flakes of snow, so it’s definitely time.  Now you might not want to plant tulips by the thousands, but I think tulips are the best gift a gardener can give herself as a reward for surviving the winter, and since I abhor the winter, I need tulips by the armfuls.

There are specific tulips I must grown each year, but before I describe each of my favorites, I want to clear up a little confusion. In this country, most tulips do not come back that readily. It’s not the fault of the tulips, in their home countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Crete and Greece (to name just a few places where they originate) tulips ground in what is referred to as sharp soil. In other words, super well draining soil. They survive beautifully in very cold winters and dry hot, rainless summers, and multiply ferociously. Unfortunately, when they are planted in our rich beautiful soil (or in clay soil like at my house) and then suffer the indignities of our constant irrigating of our flowers and our lawns, they rot. In a perfect world, to have our tulips flower again and again, we’d need to turn those sprinklers off, and let everything die down and go dormant. But since none of us are going to do that, make sure you do amend the soil you plant your bulbs in with plenty compost to make the soil loose and porous. The tulips that I grown in raised beds actually do brilliantly, and some of them are on their third year blooming -- tada -- the power of drainage. But my garden is, in many places, deep, heavy soil, and so many of my tulips don’t come back which is why, every year, I plant more.

One of my favorites, it has flowered for the last two years in a raised bed is the luscious Nightrider. It’s a viriflora tulip, which is a class of flowers that have green in them. Mine are not as darkly vivid as the boxed portrayed them, but the green center of each petal’s back fades to white and before ending in a thick edge of pinky purple. It’s a stunning tulip. I also insist on Ballerina, an orange lily flowered tulip, which means that each of its petals comes to a point. It also has come back for two years. It’s vivid orange works with anything I pair it with in a bouquet, which is why I plant it heavily in my cutting garden. This year I’m adding another lily flowered variety, Burgandy, which I hope will be a dark, drinkable rich wine color. The ballerina varieties all seem to flower for a very long time in the garden and last the longest of all my tulips in the vase. I adore a tulip called Belle Epoque, but it’s a terrible repeater, so I don’t plant too many of them each year. I still add them, because of the fantastic coloring of their flowers. A mauvey pink that looks like it’s been dipped in milky tea, its double flowers remind me of antiques satin bed coats. Double tulips are my weakness I confess, and although they too don’t seem to repeat as well as classic Darwin types, I am a sucker for their lushness. This year I’m adding Dream Touch, a late flowering varieties that has a thin picotee white edging on deeper magenta petals along with Purple Peony which I hope will have the coloring of the robes worn by only kings and emperors as the die that colored them was created from the slime of murexes and sea snails and was, at once time, the most expensive color of a cloth. Most double tulips tend to be late blooming ones.

Balloon is going to be a new addition to the garden, a Darwin, with huge flowers (said to be 5” long – I’ll report in the spring if it’s true) and the genetics to possibly live on for a long time in the garden. I’m also adding Carousel, a Fringed type, with petal edges that are delicately shredded at the tips. It’s meant to start off primrose, creamy yellow and fade to ivory, but its real attraction for me is the delicate red featherings that decorate each petal. It should be gorgeous in a vase, and I like it because it reminds me of the “broken” or streaked tulips in Dutch still life paintings.

Last year and the year before I planted a tulip called Brooklyn, because it was double and it was green and it looked like an artichoke. It was amazing, but this year I’m trying a different green tulip, one called Evergreen that is a Triumph type. The Triumphs are the largest category of tulips are a cross between early flowering tulips and Darwin types and some of the other triumphs I have in my garden are the longest lasting tulips I own. The Evergreen is a true green edged with chartreuse according to it’s packaging, so we will have to see, but I have high hopes for it, as the Brooklyn, although beautiful, was not a strong performer.

Another category of tulips that are gorgeous but definitely do not come back each year are the Parrot tulips, but only a fool would neglect to add those each year. With pinking sheared petals that romp and curl and twist and colors that dazzle these are the supermodels of the tulip family. I always add a white parrot and a black parrot but this year I’m adding Estella Rijnveld a startling candy cane striped explosion of shock, especially when stuffed into an armful of the elegant, delicate, pure dreamy white blooms of Maureen. It’s hard sometimes to remember to buy the simpler tulips when choosing what will fill the ground, but this classic late white is another strong performer in the garden and amazing in a vase.

I wish I had more room to tell you about the others, but you have to trust me and find a place to grown them in your own yard so that then in the spring, on a miserable grey day, we can visit each other’s homes, give a deep sigh and say, “Finally, Spring is here.”

Paige Patterson also has a thing for the blue of muscari and if she had enough money would carpet the world with them.

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