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Fall and spring both hang in the balance

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, at 8:54 a.m.

Wild tulips

If you consider planting hundreds of tulips for a one-time show too extravagant, you can turn to wild tulips – also called species tulips – for a display that will return year after year, as long as you plant them in full sunlight in well-drained soil and go easy on the summer irrigation of the beds where they dwell.

Wild tulips are not used in assorted blocks, as you would the large hybrids, but are presented more as low, clustered bouquets, which can repeat all the way through a bed or up a hillside. They tend to open fully on warm days, revealing star-shaped blooms with striking contrasts at the base of the inner petals.

Lauren Springer Ogden, a horticulturist and landscape designer based in Fort Collins, Colo., likes to see favored varieties planted amid the spring foliage of dry-loving, silver-leafed perennials such as lamb’s ears, snow in summer or the silver sage, Salvia argentea.

Washington Post

The spooky scene in the garden comes the morning when we wake to find that tender new mum buds, white tomato flowers and succulent green leaves on the purple sweet-potato vine were snatched away during the night by the cold, leaving summer only a warm memory.

Then we can move on and give ourselves fully to falling into piles of leaves, making pumpkin bread and blowing into mugs of hot chocolate as we gaze out the frosty windows.

Well, actually, we don’t do enough of that, do we?

Instead – or, ideally in addition – we can mulch-mow leaves on the lawn, make a compost pile, buy last-minute trees and shrubs, plant bulbs for the earliest next opportunity for flowers and water all our plants so they are moist when the ground freezes. I have to grab a glass of water for myself anytime I think of plants going into the winter parched.

If you’ve been going through your gardening things and have come up with stuff you want to get rid of, Kelly Hayes has come to the rescue with a gardener’s exchange Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Fairview Christian Church, 15th and Fairview. Plants, garden tools, garden magazines – pretty much anything garden-related is allowed, except for hazardous materials such as pesticides, Kelly says. And you don’t have to bring anything to the exchange in order to “shop” – take what you want from the exchange. It’s all free.

I’ve waited until now to buy spring bulbs, and I’m being all sentimental about it – connecting the planting of tulips to Election Day, and picking out varieties whose names I like, such as El Nino. Then there’s Giant Orange Sunset, which I didn’t even know was a tulip until I got home, because the little plant tags were all gone from the cardboard bin at the nursery. It was alongside the alliums, so I figured it for an orange globe. Turns out Giant Orange Sunset is the world’s biggest tulip, at 9 to 10 inches. This should be fun.

If you’d like fewer surprises in your garden come next flowering, I’d follow this spring vision from Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post:

“The key is to be liberal with the number of tulips you plant but conservative with the number of varieties. I plant them in blocks or broad ribbons amid clumps of perennials, then just coming into life. The scale and framing of your garden will dictate the area covered, and thus the number of bulbs, but be generous. The pros put in 12 to 15 per square foot, so a planting of 15 feet by 2 feet could easily absorb more than 350 bulbs.”

Higgins asked Angela Jupe, a garden designer based in Shinrone, Ireland, about tulip combinations, and she advised that in a three-variety mix, 40 percent is of the darkest tulip, with the two other varieties making up 30 percent each. “She plays with the ratios, especially if one is white. Your eye is drawn to the lighter flowers, so reducing their number will keep the display in check,” Higgins writes.

A mix of pastels is “soft and safe and elegant,” Higgins says. But you can also play with a combination of reds for the opposite effect. He quotes Jacqueline van der Kloet, a Dutch designer known for her bulb garden designs, as saying, “I never use the same combinations twice, because there are so many to choose from.”

“It’s sort of like playing the lottery, except you win every time,” Higgins writes.


Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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