Tulip Time

I have not lost my marbles, thinking about tulip time in October.  This is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs.  My supplier sent me 22 emails today regarding the details of the UPS shipments of my bulbs. I plant lots at the shop.  I plant for clients too.  I wish I planted more.  It is very hard to appreciate the fragrance and beauty of spring flowering bulbs 8 months in advance of the event.  But I will try to express that-hoping it will encourage you to plant for spring.   

I hope my pictures encourage you to plant ahead. The one characteristic I admire most about gardeners the very most is their stubborn hope for the future.  A better garden next year.  A better spring for magnolias-next year.  The slip of a plant that becomes a major plant in a few years.  The spring to come.  Your spring is in your hands.   

Those brown tulip orbs of varying sizes represent a future garden.  Think about tulips, and move on.  There are lots of other spring blooming bulbs.  The spring anemone blanda bulbs are shrivelled peas when they arrive; soak them for 24 hours, and plant. The grape hyacinths are available in plenty of variations.  They are one of the longest lasting spring bloomers.   The tulip bulbs with their papery coating promise a plant with wide and luscious leaves culminating in a bloom of extravagant proportion.  Tulips fit into an established perennial garden as well. Order up plenty of those brown bulbs.    

There are many species and hybrids of tulips available, whose bloom time spans late April until late May.  They are  the showgirls of the spring garden.  After a Michigan winter, I am ready for their beautiful globular forms, their fresh fragrance, their supremely green stems and luscious leaves.  I am as grumpy about the fall as you are.  Our fall has been balmy so far-this is perfect planting weather.  Thinking about bulbs in late November-plant them in pots, in ther shelter of your own garage.      

This double tulip Akebono is exquisite.   My order of 100 bulbs last fall has been increased considerably.  A group of 10, or 25, or 110 planted in your garden this October will reward you handsomely next spring.     

Winter in the Midwest is a tough go.  Part of what gets me through that bleak season is the promise of spring.  Those various brown knobs and orbs, sequestered underground, ready to represent, once the snow melts, and the weather warms. No garden should be without tulips. I like to plant a mix in the big bed in front of the shop.  Next spring’s scheme will be very different than this.   

Should you have a perennial garden with but a few spaces available for tulip bulbs, there is always the option to pot them up the fall. A pot of tulips on the front porch in early May is a very good look.  It is easy to bring on potted tulips-give it a try.   

 Our winters are notable for the grey.  Grey skies, dirty snow, low temperatures.  Should you have a mind to emerge from the winter in fine style, plant some tulips. Plant lots of tulips.  Plant a fistful of tulips in an important spot. A plan for little color is in order, is it not?  This box of Oxford tulips was companion planted with yellow frittilaria.  Though the flowers are gone, the foliage looks great with the tulip flowers.  

No doubt it is hard to embrace the promise of a fresh gardening season right now.  Last spring’s pictures are helping to put me in the mood.    

Your local nursery has tulip bulbs.  John Sheepers has a complete range of tulips and other spring flowering bulbs available.  Becky’s Bulbs is a superb source.  October is time of choice in my zone to plant daffodils, hyacinths, anemones, tulips, grape hyacinths, and a whole other host of spring flowering bulbs.  If you are like me, you do not want to do without the snowdrops, crocus, chionodoxa, or hyacinthoides.  Part of preparing for winter is to make time for some tulips.  Plant what you can.



I am not much for getting dressed up, but some occasions call for that.  I oblige as best I can.  Some great vintage costume jewelry, and a little lipstick can do wonders when I need to go out after work.  Lipstick in the garden-the tulips take first prize.  Their large, goblet shaped and brilliantly colored blooms dress up a spring garden like a new lipstick.  Even the pastel colors glow.  Who knows what the real science is, but here is my theory.  The petals are very large, and thin.  This makes them transluscent.  Spring sun shines through the petals-they glow.  This tulip?  American Dream. 


A truly beautiful photograph of a flower or a garden is so dependent on a circumstance of light that endows a flat surface with four edges with depth, and great color saturation.  I understand nothing of the science of photography-I just take lots of pictures.  But I do know my favorite experience of the tulips is not only their gorgeous shapes and juicy leaves and stems- that saturated, glowing color relieves my winter headache in an instant. 

Glowing color is so welcome in my zone-after an interminable and invariably gray winter.  Michigan is known for its long run of sunless days.  By the time spring comes, I feel like I have lived my whole life in blah and white.  No flower comes with packed with more vitamin D than the tulip. 

Tulips come in no end of species and hybrids.  Anna Pavord’s book on tulips-excellent and thorough.  My classification of tulips-much more simple.  There are those that are reliably perennial, and there are those that are half-heartedly perennial at best.  The species tulips, the early tulips-most of them are quite perennial.  They are modest in size, and exotic looking.  Why would they not be?  This species tulip-tulipa humilis hybrid is aptly named Persian Pearl.  I am sure the name refers to its native habitat.     

Tulips comprise a group of 109 species-native to Southern Europe, North Africa, Asia, Anatolia, and Iran.  These are exotic places, given that I live in Michigan.  They have that look-from another world.  The very early species can be crushed by late frosts, but they are stubborn about coming back.  Tulip Oratorio-a greigii tulip, is quite persistent and tolerates planting in a pot that winters in the garage quite well.  

The later blooming hybrid tulips- heart stopping.  I have had Temple of Beauty grow in excess of 40 inches tall.  I have had Blushing Beauty flowers fully seven inches across.  Some years for tulips are better than others-they like a long cool spring.  They hate being frozen through and through.  In very severely cold winters, if they are not planted deep enough, they freeze solid, and rot when the soil warms. 

It is no wonder the long stemmed so called French tulips are a spring staple for florists.  The flowers grow after they are cut, and age.  Extraordinary, this.  They are the devil to arrange-they have their own ideas about placement.   

Tulips are a bloody nuisance-the brown orb shaped bulbs want to be planted in the fall after the soil cools.  As committed a gardener as I am, I have an aversion to putting my hands in cold soil.  Warm soil is one of the great pleasures of gardening.  This is by way of saying it is fairly big work to have tulips to celebrate your spring. Not only do they ask for planting late in the year, they want you to wait many months before you can savor the fruits of your work.  Do not be so discouraged that you do not plant any.

Even one giant blob of tulips will will lift your winter weary spirits.  There are no end of tulips varieties and colors from which to choose from. 

If you have no tulips coming on, stop by.  I planted 2300 tulips in the front garden at the shop last fall.  I am guessing they will begin to show color within a week, and be in full bloom shortly therafter.  I have a client who went for the spring tour at Keukenhof-can you hear me sighing?  My business precludes a spring trip anywhere except to the shop.  That’s exactly why I plant my own version of Keukenhof.  You are welcome to stop by to see this year’s shades of lipstick.

Time For Tulips

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I am embarassed to admit I did not take the time to plant a single tulip last fall-how lame. But I had the entire spring season to regret that decision at my leisure. They smell divine; the colors are not only luscious, they are so welcome after our long grey winter. They are swell as cut flowers.  So what was my problem?  It is easy to let the spring bulb planting slide, especially if the fall weather is nasty.  I am not particularly fond of gardening in freezing weather, beyond digging myself a shelter in the compost pile, and settling in there for a hot lunch and warm apple pie with coffee. Planting bulbs is not especially satifying. You repeat the work of little holes six to eight inches deep times the numbers of bulbs you have; all the while your hands, nose and feet are going numb from the cold .  When you have finished, you have nothing to show for your work-just the same dirt surface that was there before you started.

Spring 2005 (3)They say delayed gratification is the most adult of all pleasures, so maybe I was being childish about the long hiatus between the planting and the blooming.  But when spring finally comes, tulips deliver.  It is no small miracle that those small white bulbs with their papery brown covers become a plant that can reach thirty inches tall or better, with strikingly large flowers.  Even people whose vocabulary does not include the word “garden”, know the word tulip. 

tulips _0002As is my habit, I welcome the one odd plant out in any mass planting. This ocean of Mrs. John Sheepers is all the better looking for it. The blooming of the tulips is one of those garden moments to be treasured. I certainly was not thinking about how cold it was the day I planted , on this spring day. My tulips shake off any late frost; most of any damage is to the leaves that appear early. They are remarkably resilient to rain and wind.

Spring05 (7)Despite some literature to the contrary, I would not describe a tulip as a perennial. Once they flower, the top size bulb breaks down into smaller bulbs and bulbils. As flower size is directly related to the size of the bulb, a smaller bulb, or collection of will produce smaller flowers, or possibly, no flowers at all.  In Holland, once the tulips have bloomed, the bulbs are dug up, sorted as to size and replanted for growing them back to top size.  I do not want to dig tulips, separate the bulbs and replant; the Dutch do a much better job of this than I could. This is a long way of saying that I treat my tulips as annuals.  When they are done flowering, I dig them and give them away, or compost them.

dgw spring_0004Daffodils are a much better choice of a spring flowering bulb, should you have a requirement that your bulbs rebloom reliably. But they are not tulips.  Treating the tulips as annuals permits me to plant them in places where I will later plant summer annuals. As I do not discriminate against summer flowering plants that are only able to grace my garden for one year, so why not have tulips?

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More often than planting in the ground, I do manage to plant tulips in containers which I winter in the garage, or under a thick coating of compost outdoors.  I may plant boxes or baskets or galvanized buckets-whatever seems handy.  I also may companion plant; the basket of red tulips pictured above was planted in tandem with the giant frittilaria imperialis.  The frits were done blooming, but their curly foliage was attractive with the tulips.

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Tulips in containers have the added advantage of mobility.  They can be moved to a good spot in a spring garden, or placed on a table, or delivered to a friend who is ill.  It also enables me to plant standing up, in the shelter of my garage. 

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I did plant tulips yesterday-1800 in all.  I did a mix of World Expression, Avignon, Maureen and Cum Laude.  Should you be interested in checking out my choices, or planting some tulips of your own, I highly recommend Sheepers. www.johnsheepers.com  They have a great website, with pictures that will make your mouth water.  It is not too late for you to have tulips in the spring.