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Garden Diary: The tulips put on a show

Garden Diary: The tulips put on a show

Spring certainly took its time to arrive on our 65-acre campus in Aurora, New York, but now it’s finally here.

The flowering crabapple trees are in bloom and so pretty in pink, the perennials are growing lush and green, and thousands of tulips are putting on quite a show. Among these are several unique types, including Lover’s Tulip Blend (three intensely colored tulip varieties in shades of purple, plum, and white blooming near our Farmhouse), Princess Irene (an orange and purple tulip in the courtyard), and Black Parrot (a deep wine-red tulip with black fringed edges in our cutting garden near the greenhouse).

You’re welcome to stop by and take it all in. Our grounds are open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.

The start of the season was about two to three weeks behind last year, says Corinne Bowman, our estate manager, who knows all too well that you can’t rush Mother Nature. “She’s the boss,” says Corinne. While waiting for spring to happen, there was plenty for Corinne to do, and much of it involved thwarting her biggest nemesis: deer. Says Corinne, “It’s a war between us and the deer.”

Deer are naturally attracted to tulips because of their sweet, milky taste. Over the years, Corinne has tried several home remedies (Irish Spring soap and human hair) and commercial products (Deer Scram), but nothing works better than the physical barrier of plastic mesh netting that she makes into a “deer cage.” It’s a tactic that you could try in your own garden if you’re also deer-challenged.

The netting, which has one-inch openings, is laid directly on the ground immediately after the bulbs are planted in the fall and is secured by plastic stakes and brick pavers. Once plantings start to pop in early spring, the netting is raised and stapled to wooden stakes that stand about 12 inches above the flowerbeds. Pavers and stakes go around the edges of the netting to keep everything secure. The mesh isn’t foolproof, but it seems to help as the plants grow. Once the blooms are tall enough to touch the netting, the plastic comes off and Corinne crosses her fingers, hoping that the deer are less attracted to the plant than to the bulb.

When the spring-blooming tulips fade, Corinne digs the bulbs and plants fresh ones in the fall. If you want your tulips to rebloom (and some of the old-fashioned heirloom varieties will do so when planted in a sunny and well-drained location), let the foliage die completely back so that energy can be restored to the bulbs. The best way to hide the dying foliage, Corinne says, is to tuck it behind growing perennials and add some annuals as well.

And speaking of annuals, here are a few more gardening tips:

  • Before planting annuals in the ground or in a container, tease their roots out a bit. Often annuals can be root-bound so they might need a little help settling into their new home.
  • Amend your soil to make it more loam-like, which is the ideal garden soil and is made of a 40-40-20 percent concentration of sand-silt-clay, respectively. The texture of loam is porous, allowing water to flow through slowly enough for the plants to access it but fast enough to avoid soggy soil. Loam is also nutrient-rich. You can improve the content of your soil with the addition of compost or other amendments. The soil on our campus tends to be clay, but years of amending it has transformed it to loam.
  • Use a good-quality potting mix if you are planting annuals in containers. Look for something that contains peat moss (which holds moisture and slowly releases it), pine bark (which improves air circulation and moisture retention), and vermiculite or perlite (which lightens the mix and improves aeration). Be aware that containers tend to dry out quickly and that you may need to water the plant every day.

Look for the next installment of our Garden Diary blog in late June or early July. It will focus on our perennial and vegetable gardens.


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