Bulb planting challenges

The great thing about tulips is that no matter what, they make us happy when they bloom. Even if they’re planted in a jellybean mix of reds, pinks, and yellows. — Maybe especially then because it’s spring and after the dreariness of winter, anything goes. But even so, Gail, Betsy and I put a lot of thought into our bulb order, making sure that our combinations will not only be happy-making but also really beautiful. And with that done, placing them should be the easy part. And it usually is as long as we don’t overthink it. First we had have a look back at the catalog to remember what we ordered way back in August…

The Cutting Garden is always the easiest to place. We ordered 20 bulbs each of a few varieties to try out new combinations and just had to row those out in our grids recently emptied of annuals. Same thing for last year’s trials that were still big enough to bother replanting (most tulips only put on a decent show for 2 or 3 years). For those we closed our eyes and blindly chose 3 or 4 varieties to group together. Fun.

The North Garden is pretty easy too because, again, we don’t have to think about where they go because we place them in the soft soil where the annuals have come out. But this year we made an extra effort to spread them out in swaths rather than round clusters… We gave ourselves an extra challenge in the Rose Garden by choosing two combinations of similar colors – one threesome to bloom early, the other late. Those we placed in mingling groups, swaths again, that will run and blend together as long as the squirrels leave them alone.

The biggest challenge this year came in planting the bulbs. It has been so dry lately that wherever the soil was loose we couldn’t dig a hole without it filling right in again like beach sand. And wherever the soil wasn’t loose – in the Rose Garden particularly, the dryness plus compaction had rendered it cement-like. Impossible to dig with a trowel. Should have rented a jackhammer… Now that all 1500 or so tulips are in – a huge round of applause to our amazing volunteers! – we only have to keep our eyes out for critters that might rob the stash. This year we’re going to try putting out trays of the oldest tiniest bulbs for the squirrels. Fingers crossed they take those rather than digging up the big juicy ones.

Difficult digging this past week was at least rewarded with an eyeful of fall blaze. It has gotten so pretty that I can’t let another week go by without posting a gratuitous picture or two (or three). I took these in the Enclosed Garden.

Have you planted tulips or other bulbs yet? Any particular challenges this year?