Aren’t they lovely? I don’t deliberately buy and plant tulips in my yard, because even if the voles don’t eat the bulbs, or the deer don’t eat the leaves and flowers, most don’t return reliably year to year in my region. The issue with tulips and the southeast Piedmont is soil temperature. Our winters often don’t stay cold enough long enough to give most tulips the proper chilling period their growth cycle requires.
However, the tulips in the photo are an exception. First, they were free. As a member of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), I sometimes receive free garden-related items from companies as part of their marketing strategy. This happened more often in the good-old days, when marketing budgets were fatter. But even this year, I received a spectacular catalog and set of ten seed packets from a fancy company based in California.
In years past, a bulb company in an adjacent state used to send out boxes of bulbs to GWA members, usually in December. They always contained tulips, among other bulbs. As an obsessive gardener, I — of course — felt obliged to plant the free bulbs, and the tulips in the above photo have now returned to bloom at least four years — it may have been longer. Because I didn’t expect them to last, I didn’t note anything about when or what I planted.
I seem to recall that the original planting was five bulbs, so this bunch has clearly multiplied. I don’t feed them or give them extra water. They get mulched whenever I mulch that area, which is not predictable. And you may recognize the foliage of other other perennials — iris and daylily — in close proximity. I am eternally behind on perennial maintenance tasks like dividing, feeding, and mulching, so the perennials that thrive in my front garden are tough customers.
I respect that a lot in perennials — toughness. You will never find me fussing over phlox or any other iffy flowering plant. That’s why I favor natives in the first place. They’re adapted to grow in my yard. Beyond a little bit of first-year pampering, I can trust they will thrive without anything but my sincere admiration.
Still, you can’t argue with the eye-popping appeal of that crowd of bright tulips. The blooms last for several weeks unless an early heat wave does them in. They’ve been showing off in this year’s garden for about two weeks now. About the time they wind down, the adjacent irises should be pushing up bloom stalks. I enjoy having polite perennials willing to bloom in succession, each taking a turn in the garden spotlight as spring segues into summer.