by Charlene Burgi
The other day a friend came over and admired the little Tête-à-Tête daffodils that were just breaking ground. We discussed the beauty of planting bulbs in the garden and what varieties perform best.
She then mentioned that tulips were her favorite bulb and described how she enjoyed seeing them come up year after year. This comment took me aback as my experience with tulips has been anything but long-term. The bulbs that I planted in the past provided a wonderful show of color the first year, and disappeared forever after. In my book, tulips didn’t appreciate my time and effort, and I considered them an annual—if I opted to plant them at all.
Although tulip-planting season isn’t until fall, my friend’s comment stirred my curiosity about the flower. Coincidentally, while going through boxes of books and garden magazines (that got moved up here this past week), I found an article entitled “Species Tulips” in an old Country Living Gardener magazine. The article stated that there are over 100 species of tulips that originated in the Near East and Central Asia. The botanical name, Tulipa, is derived from the Persian word for turban.
I was particularly curious how my friend’s tulips thrive year after year in Marin without the chill that is mandatory for blooms. Further investigation revealed that tulips with star-shaped petals, such as Tulipa clusiana and Tulipa wilsoniana, seem to be the long-lived species that thrive in mild climates. They are able to withstand crazy spring weather that brings heavy rain and wind. This type of tulip prefers well-drained soil that is exposed to sun and quasi-dry irrigation. The best part is chilling these bulbs for six to eight weeks in the refrigerator will only produce taller stems. If you don’t mind shorter (five- to six-inch) stems, you can skip refrigerating them and still reap the benefit of beautiful flowers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share one more challenge with tulips: The gophers and voles love them. Plant the bulbs in containers or wire mesh baskets sunk into the ground in autumn. Remember that tulips show off best when planted in mass. Even with the added trouble of planting in wire baskets, this investigation was changing my mind about how I categorized this bulb as ungrateful and high-maintenance.
I can’t wait for the fall planting season to try these long-lived species in the garden. Meanwhile, I still have watsonia, gladiolas, and lily of the valley waiting for the snows to melt so they can go into the ground this spring for summer color. I also have a waiting box of old books and magazines to peruse for new discoveries.
Native Plant Sale & Nursery Grand Opening April 14
Are you thinking of adding native plants to your garden? If so, this is an event not to be missed. The Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is combining their 36th Annual Native Plant Sale with their nursery grand opening on Saturday, April 14, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at Green Point Nursery, 275 Olive Avenue in Novato. You will find a wide selection of California native annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines and seeds, plus native plant books, posters and cards. There will be native plant experts on hand to offer advice, a wildflower walk, composting demonstrations and more. Admission is free. Learn more: marinnativeplants.org.