After the snowdrops, after the crocuses, after the daffodils, there is just about nothing blooming in the front of the house until the June show of peonies, irises, and poppies. I have not been the first person to notice this bloom gap, not by a long shot, and the traditional recommendation is to plant tulips to bridge this gap.
Tulips As Annuals?
The only thing is, tulips don’t thrive in my clay soil and it’s taken me a while to get used to the idea of planting them as annuals. I have nothing against annuals–when they’re grown in someone else’s garden. In my garden it seems profligate to spend so much money on plants that won’t come back. I used to grow a lot of annuals from seed, but discovered they need the most babysitting (watering, potting on, etc.) right about when I need to spend the absolute most amount of time outside weeding, mulching, and generally asserting a modicum of control. So I tend to grow the kind of annuals that self-sow, which tulips are not.
This spring I finally got it through my thick head that species tulips tend to be more perennial than a lot of the more “woo-woo look at me” sorts of tulips. Here I’d been growing Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ for over ten years in the Crocus Bank, and it took me this long to realize I could grow it elsewhere. I did realize that the Crocus Bank was not the best place for it. In order for the crocuses to come back every year, we have to let the foliage grow to its full extent and go dormant. And while we are waiting for that to happen, the grass is growing longer, too. Consequently, by the time the ‘Lilac Wonder’ tulips are blooming, they get kind of lost in the grass.
But on the other side of the driveway is the peony bed, which is looking for some action while the peonies get up to speed. A whole mess of ‘Lilac Wonder’ tulips would not get lost with some peony shoots as a backdrop. I had learned from planting the crocus bed that guessing how many bulbs one would need to plant a given area does not always work well. So the first order of business was to measure the length of the bed.If I followed the edge of the bed, I came up with 16.5 to 17 feet. If I measured straight across down the middle of the bed, it was closer to 15 feet.
Shopping for Tulip Bulbs
Then it was time to go shopping. Brent & Becky’s Bulbs has the most information packed site. When I checked their information for Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, it told me I should plant 10 to 15 bulbs per square foot. Figuring 10 bulbs per square foot along a 15-foot length, I could have ordered 150 bulbs of ‘Lilac Wonder’. But I decided to buy 50 bulbs of ‘Little Beauty’, another species-type tulip, and the remaining hundred ‘Lilac Wonder.’ I thought the darker color of ‘Little Beauty,’ mixed in randomly, would add a little zing to the ‘Lilac Wonder,’ and I also hoped the inner color of ‘Little Beauty’ would match the outer petals of ‘Lilac Wonder.’ I’ll let you know next spring.
But I am a little embarrassed to show you my planting method, so you’ll have to wait for Part 2 to learn how I do it.