Tuesday, April 3

What is Promised and What is Delivered

I was excited to see a flash of color this evening as I pulled into my driveway. Inspired by various other garden bloggers who wax poetic about the joys of spring bulbs, I had decided to take a deep breath and plant some tulips in the front garden this fall.

Mindful of others' advice to plant tulips closely for the best look, I planted my bulbs at the minimum recommended distance. Since I'm better with the digital camera and a computer than a digital notebook, I took pics of each package in the place where its bulbs were planted. As you can see in the first picture, this little area between my hellebores and a flat rock was destined to sport a voluptuous beauty of a tulip: inwardly curved, orangey red petals with yellow edges.

So... maybe the tulips succumbed to the modern notions of fashion and went on a diet over the winter? The colors are right, but the proportions are all wrong. Would I think that this was a lovely little beauty if this is what I meant to plant? Absolutely. But with the false advertising on the package, it feels kind of like I went home with Dolly Parton only to find out that it's all just smoke, mirrors and a big wad of tissues.

Beyond that, I did learn a valuable lesson. When other gardeners tell you to plant your tulips close, they mean close. Don't even read the package if you have a hybrid tulip that's only going to give you a year or two of color at best--just plant those suckers 3 inches apart if you want them to look like big fat bouquets in your garden.

I have lots of other tulips planted that have yet to flower. In the next few weeks, I allegedly will be seeing flowers in creamy white, fringed orange, and a purple so dark that it can be mistaken as black. We'll see. I won't be the last gardener to be sucked in by a Photoshopped picture, and I know that I wouldn't be the first to discover that my White Emperor tulips actually bloom yellow. Nothing that pops out of the ground will really surprise me at this point... and lucky for them, it's early spring. Any color is a welcome color in zone 6 in April.


chuck b. said...

I feel your pain. This is the third year in a row I've been burned by bad tulips. I want to say I'll never do it again, but I am weak. Did you get these from a Park franchise? If I do spring bulbs again, I'm definitely going with one of those small heirloom operations they're always blogging about at Garden Rant.

Anonymous said...

Too bad Kim. I haven't had the experience with tulips but I have with other bulbs. They should come with a guarantee.

On the bright side,it has added some colour and as you say;

Any color is a welcome color in zone 6 in April.

Anonymous said...

It looks like a little harlequin in a stripey suit. Very colorful---and I like colorful.

I've only tried tulips in a container. They worked fine but didn't thrill me, and I've yet to stick one in the ground.

Anonymous said...

I seldom buy tulips, other than the smaller species tulips. There are occasionally forced tulips available at work, which most folks treat as annuals. But I collect the pots, deadhead, grow them on in the pots and plant them in the fall. Most folks think that's crazy, but some come back and bloom, and I'm only out my time if they don't.

I don't buy tulips because we have pretty heavy deer pressure and they are deer candy. Even in the absence of deer, tulips can be fussy. I find daffodils, which deer definitely don't like, a good substitute. And they tend to multiply over the years, not fade like tulips.

For my money, bulb money is better invested in the large variety of other 'minor' spring bulbs. Sure, they're smaller. But many are reliable and in spring I don't mind bending over to get a colorful eyeful.

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

I've been really bad about planting spring bulbs, and I'm starting to regret it now. Something to remember for fall :-) And I'll remember your advice: don't read the directions, just plant them close.

It is a very colorful tulip, even if it wasn't what you expected. And, you're totally right...any color right now is good!

Unknown said...

Chuck, no... I got these at a local garden center. I got burned by Park's one too many times (although I will admit that I've always had good luck with purchases from Wayside, one of their holdings) and I do try to buy locally. Like you, I think I'll try Old House Gardens and maybe also buy some species tulips from Bluestone this fall.

Stuart, thanks for the kind words. You're right, and I was right... and I just have to keep reminding myself that the color is great. :)

Pam, I'm thinking that maybe I'll just force some of these next year myself. They're just not doing much for me in general, either. (Of course, if the almost-black ones come close to fulfilling their promise, I may have other thoughts!)

Colleen, I've been bad for years now about planting spring-flowering bulbs, so I know what you mean! Every spring I would think, "I have to make time to plant these in the fall," but it never happened before.

Craig, I have to confess... that I'm starting to come around to daffs but I still mostly don't like them. A few of the smaller ones that I'm starting to see around--and fragrant ones, like the ones that Kathy (Cold Climate Gardening) posted about recently--are catching my eye now, though.

As I said above, I think that I'm going to get some species tulips from Bluestone (they're not too pricey) this fall, and then look at a few other options from Old House Gardens. I loved that winter aconite that you posted about several weeks ago, and I already have some crocus. I have also been drooling over lots of the spring ephemerals that Don (An Iowa Garden) has been posting about for weeks now.

Maybe... mixing black, silver, brown and red foliage in my shade garden aside... I'm just not really a Dolly Parton kind of girl after all?

Anonymous said...

As you no doubt know, there are a dozen or so "divisions" of tulips.

I know this going to sound strange coming from me (person interested in strange and unusual things) but as far as tulips are concerned, you GOTTA GO WITH Darwins... and of the Darwins, you gotta go with the IMPRESSIONS cultivars/varities/whatever.

No kidding. Darwin Impressions are the largest, tallestest, straightest, boldest announcements of Spring possible of all your tulipa choices.

Subtle? No.

But it's freaking spring. We've been dying inside for months. I want some kind of banquet ball to be thrown in my gardens when the bulbs come up. They fade soon enough. And there is time for all the subtle stuff. But when the cold slithers away, I want the John Philips Sousa of tulips to invite me back outside.

That's just me.

Oh... I went ahead and filled out some paperwork and started a little "company" (on paper, as I said) that will allow me to buy wholesale bulbs in wholesale lots this summer/fall and indefinately thereafter. Might save a little money.

When I get my act together on that, I'll let you know. Maybe a group of us will want to go in on a massive bulb order.

I'll be buying a truckload of Impressions this summer/fall.


lisa said...

Hank is sponsoring a huge bulb purchase? Oh hell yea-sign me up! I have plenty of room for more bulbs! Personally, I just buy what I like, they come up reliably for me (maybe because I amend soil with manure and sprinkle bulb food around them while they bloom), and mine multiply so much that I'll be dividing next year. Now I just have to figure out what all I want by fall...

Carol Michel said...

My tulips are not the right colors, either. And the stems are really short. I've got a nice bed of them, but once they are done blooming or get frozen out, I'm yanking them all and will get better bulbs this fall, from a reputable bulb business!

Ki said...

Kim,why didn't I think of that? Take a picture of the packaging of the bulb/plant and placement! Brilliant. Thanks for the tip.
Yeah the sellers are shameless when they show the plants in their catalogs with eye popping color and lush growth. I got just the opposite of yours when some tulips I bought flowered on 2 inch stalks barely clearing the ground with garish too-big-flowers for its height.
My mother-in-law was great in growing tulips but she gave them a lot of food. Mainly fish fertilizer but a constant feeding when they were growing. Apparently they are heavy feeders. Dug them up in the fall and replanted them in the spring. Always had a gorgeous display. blnt.

Rurality said...

I decided at our last house that tulips were a plant that I'd best enjoy in OTHER people's gardens. :)

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

Tulip problems? If you want an easy life go for botanical tulips. You stick them in the ground and they come back year after year and even multiply if you treat thm right. They come in lost of lovely colours too.

Can't advise you on reputable bulb growers because I live in Holland and I only know the best ones here. :-)

But cheer up Kim, at least you have some colour in the garden now and learned a valuable lesson about tulips.

David (Snappy) said...

I love the colours even if you worried your tulip is Svelte.I know the packaging is meant to seduce us.Plant them closer next year.You make me smile :)

Anonymous said...

The colors are very pretty, maybe next year you can experiment with different brands. I bought mine on the cheap and half of them didn't bloom they just are stunted sprouts it's very odd.

kathy said...

It looks like you got a fosteriana or Kaufmaniana tulip, instead of the Avignon you ordered. Avignon is a single late tulip (in the similar class as Darwin tulips). Maybe the flower you show was just a single bulb that got mixed in. If the others havn't bloomed yet, maybe they will be correct. The tulip you show may be called Stresa, whihc is a very early tulip. One of my favorite tulips is the Red Emporer, which has the same shape as you picture, but is a deep red and blooms very early. I always love the anticipation of seeing what comes up in the spring because I never remember what I planted where.

Annie in Austin said...

With all the winter you guys have had, I'm surprised to hear you complain that the tulips aren't snow white ;-]

Kim, when I was a horticultural volunteer at a park in Illinois the standard for white tulips was 'Maureen'.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Digital Flower Pictures said...

Geez, with this weather I would settle for any tulip. I like the Darwins, myself, but don't get to plant too many Tulips as it seems to be the second favorite food of the Whitetails (after Hosta).

kate said...

I discovered much to my amazement that the tulips I so carefully planted came up last spring in bright red and yellow ... I mentioned this in a comment in Carol's blog. It seems that this happens often - I am glad to know that because I will definitely think twice before ordering tulips again.

I'm with Yolanda on the botanical tulips - they multiply and return faithfully and so far, they have all come up looking just like the package says they will.

I also tend to buy small spring bulbs because I really like them and find them easy too.

At the moment, any colour would make me happy - we are in freeze mode here and it looks as if snow is on the way! One of these days ...

Gotta Garden said...

Sorry about your tulip(s)...I think you will be satisfied with ones from a better source. Somewhere in the wholesale business is someone or some entity that thinks we don't care what we get...

The other thing is...hope truly does spring eternal...in spring (lol)...and so we keep trying and hoping...

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