Mercurial tulips

There are seven tall tulip plants around here.

Once there were more of them, because a small child and I planted a whole row along part of the picket fence, but now only the ones at each end of that row remain.  I KNOW where the child is —adrift in the emotional and hormonal No-Man’s-Land of middle school— but what happened to the tulips?

Do tulips self-destruct?

self-destructing tulip

Or perhaps one moonless night in winter someone came into my seriously unfortified garden wearing a headlamp and carrying a very sharp and narrow shovel with maybe a Tulip Detector device on the handle, and this person silently and creepily dug up the middle section of the tulip row.

tulip thief

This could have happened. But if it did then she/he evidently failed to fully charge up the detector batteries because she/he missed the bulbs at the ends of the row.

three red tulips

Anyway, the overlooked (or the deliberately left or the over-achieving) tulips at each end of the original row have grown to become three-bloom tulip clumps, so I count them as six plants now.

tulip row

Every year when they bloom I consider how I might plant more clumps elsewhere along the fence for next year but I don’t, and there is a reason for this: I believe more tulips would be less effective, in a design sense, than these two clumps which so perfectly punctuate the sentence that is this portion of the picket fence bed.

(If that last comment seems questionable then it’s likely you’ve neglected to read the 1922 classic volume Rationalize Your Garden, by Gertrude Hyde– get it on your Kindle right away before you become even further behind in your garden planning especially if you can’t make up stuff fast.)

So that accounts for six of my seven tulips.

Here is the seventh one.

eternal tulip

Some gardener who lived here before me planted this tulip. This plant appears every spring in a bed by the front porch, and it has done this for thirty years. It never multiplies and it typically looks a little disheveled, like it went out the door before it had time to put itself completely together–but it always shows up.

Then I usually forget about it.

And some years I have gone through that bed, digging in compost and planting new delphiniums or phlox plants or ferns or azaleas or heaven knows what else. That single tulip must have a bulb that has hidden itself so deep it’s about ready to turn around and grow out the other side of the planet. (Unfortunately if it does that it will likely drown in the Indian Ocean according to my calculations drawn from the Antipodes Map.)

watermelon red tulip

Then I think that if I could get really scientific about it (might need a white lab jacket) I could perhaps distill some potent elixir of life from this tulip and make a cordial or something to sip on, and maybe I could sell the patent to some horrible maniacal drug company or even to Microsoft because I bet they could digitize it and put it on a flash drive or something and then we could all be as enduring as this tulip if we could afford the purchase price–kind of like the rest of the American health care system.

Now, moving along down the picket fence bed, we come to Rhododendron “Unique” which is blooming today.

Rhododendron UNIQUE

Really I just wanted to show off that I kept track of the name.

About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
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28 Responses to Mercurial tulips

  1. Roberta says:

    I’m impressed by what is behind all of your beautiful flowers! The wet and dreary weather has left behind a beautiful green landscape. Our meager green has already succumbed to the warmer weather and chicken scratching. I must add that your tulips are beautiful. I always think about planting bulbs but never do. This occurs to me while I am leafing through garden magazines or reading garden blogs. But then I turn the page and just as soon as you can snap your fingers the idea of planting tulips has left me and I am inspired by another photo of food stuff. Then all I want to do is make cake or beans or salad.

    • linniew says:

      Food is much more instant gratification. Planting bulbs in the November rain and waiting until April for blooms is way not-instant so kind of rare in my garden. And now I’m hungry…

  2. kininvie says:

    Dear Linnie, I’m so glad to find you quoting one of my favourite gardening books. You must have an American edition, since mine is clearly spelled ‘rationalise’. Did you know that Gertrude Hyde was a GREAT friend of Rudyard Kipling (some say he turned to her for consolation after the death of his son)? Many academics have speculated that the line in ‘IF’ was taken directly from her useful chapter ‘Striking Similarities between Triumph and disaster in the garden.’ Anyway, I like your tulips. I sometimes have ten. It depends on the mice.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Kininvie
      It is wonderful how I can count on you to have all the important old gardening books on your shelf. Thanks for pointing out my error in spelling the title– I did it from memory and as usual, Americanised it. I had no idea about Hyde and Kipling but it makes such sense. That chapter you mention is one of my favourites. (I want you know that WordPress is underlining all these Brit. spellings here.) The other chapter that stands out in my memory and has really just been a godsend to me in gardening is Chapter 7, ‘Bury It’– I expect you like that one as well.

  3. I do love a persevering flower like that lone tulip!

    • linniew says:

      It has some kind of botanical inertia.

      • Spectra says:

        HAHA -“botanical inertia”. Gets me every time. Great, fun post here. I too admire that one lone, perservering tuilip. It makes me feel a little bit sad, though, that it’s all alone out there, year after year, without a love to call its’ own…sorta like the last American Bison to be shot down on the Great American Plains…

        I bought some new tulips this year, beautiful ruffled pink Angeliques, which I didn’t get in till February!!! – and they all bloomed 🙂 I am hoping they will beat the moles who must have eaten most other tulip bulbs, and maybe even divide and conquer!

        • linniew says:

          Ruffled pink Angeliques sound very exotic! And clearly they like you or they wouldn’t have put up with that February planting and still bloomed. You think moles ate MY tulips? I have trouble believing in what you might call the mole lifestyle, living in the ground. How on earth do they find anything to eat often enough to keep from starving? (I have trouble sometimes and I know where the grocery store is.)

  4. Grace says:

    Well, you’ve given us a lovely plateful of food for thought. And now that I’ve digested a good bit of it, I’ve come to realize that obliquely, you’re saying that “s/he” and we know you’re referring to that sour-faced gardener photographed above, is quite a talented garden designer. But you were careful in your prose for fear that she might misread your motives and further employ that Tulip Detector, exchanging the “tulip” cartridge for the infinitely more lethal “Linnie’s favorite flower” cartridge. Shh… (I don’t think that made sense, but oh well.)

    You think we could pitch an updated, New Century version of “Rationalize Your Garden” to Timber Press? And maybe we could pool our resources on the tulip elixir too. I’ve got a few with similar characteristics. A few daffs too.

    • linniew says:

      Hey Gracie!
      Well you made perfect sense to me. (Which might be a worry from your end).

      Yes let’s do the book! We can just start all over and steal the title. We have lots of good gardening experience and who says it has to make sense anyway?

  5. Holleygarden says:

    Tulips never come back here – they don’t get the winter cold they need, so I would be happy to have 7 tulips returning. I think it’s sweet that the one lone tulip still comes up for its gardener, happy to be blooming, and showing off, unaware that the gardener that planted it is long gone.

  6. Greggo says:

    Tulips are from Holland. They do not do well with out their clogs.

  7. kininvie says:

    Hello Linnie, I’ve just remembered that little-known Wordsworth poem ‘To a tulip’, which begins ‘Hail, lone denizen of thy earthy bed…’ Probably the mice got the rest of his tulips too – so you are in good company.

    • linniew says:

      Oh yes tulips are all over the place in literature. (Maybe mice are as well.) Kininvie, do you remember this cheerful bit from Coleridge? I’m missing some of it, and I’m certain it’s part of a larger work but I have completely forgotten what.

      ‘Twas there upon the drifted hill,
      It stood alone in murderous grace,
      A cup upon a greening stem,
      [something something] doleful place.

      And how it grew, and tipped its head,
      And how it opened, petals wide,
      And how the bitter weather came
      and blew the thing aside.

  8. b-a-g says:

    I’ve never seen such tall tulips. Amazing that they can stand up by themselves.

  9. Alberto says:

    I’ve spent a little time playing with that Antipodes Map (I fall somewhere in the open sea near New Zeland BTW) until I realized you put that link just to distract me from leaving other comments on the post. But you failed mon chère!
    How could you even imagine to plant some red tulips all in a row? I mean Where do you pick this so high design ideas? I guess Tillie gave you a favor, really.

    That rhododendron is amazing, no wonder you remember its name… is it the unique rhododendron you have in your garden? Anyway shouldn’t you be outside sprinkling that rotten mushroom thing around the garden?

    • linniew says:

      Why Alberto, the IDEA that I want to divert you from commenting! And clearly you have not read Gertrude Hyde’s book or you would totally understand my tulip row and the esthetic value of what remains of it. I have been incorporating the mushroom compost together with farm compost (aged compost made from cleaning horse stalls…) and it is working well. Or at least nothing has died yet.

      I do have other rhododendrons in my garden, some of which actually bloom. I have a terrible pink one called Mrs. Leak (!), maybe you would like it, I could send it over with the oceanspray cutting…

      • Alberto says:

        Mrs. Leak doesn’t even sound polite to me. I don’t know… I’m not sure I’d want it… Should I plant it in a pot or on a pad?!

        And anyway I thought you made it up about Gertrude Hyde, I thought she was supposed to be the nasty doppelganger of Gertrude Jekyll… Like doctor Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde, you know?

        I think I live in Wonderland sometimes…

        • linniew says:

          You thought I made something up? Me? Boy what do I have to do to get some credibility around here?

          Mrs. Leak does not have THAT problem her problem is being so pink although really I believe you are right that she isn’t particularly polite either–she talks in movie theaters.

  10. Lyn says:

    ‘Rationalise Your Garden’ – I nearly fell off the chair. You have 7 more tulips than I do. Tulips hate me.

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