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Tulipomania strikes again. May 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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It’s daffodil and tulip season here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. To cheer us up after the horrible winter that still hasn’t fully left us—tonight’s low is predicted to be 34 degrees—our tulip and daffodil display is our best ever.

That’s because OFB’s brother and his family gave us some nice gift certificates to White Flower Farm over the years, and this past fall, they offered phenomenal deals on their daffodil mixture, “The Works,” and a pastel tulip mix that was simply too gorgeous to believe. We decided it was time to cash in our certificates and purchased one of each mix. When they arrived, we mixed the tulip and daffodil bulbs—incidentally, the fattest, healthiest bulbs we’ve ever seen—and planted them on both sides of the path leading from our parking square down to our front door.

What would come up? What would the flowers look like? Would they bloom at the same time? Would the daffs and tulips look good together, or would they clash? All winter long, we speculated. The answer is that yes, they are blooming at the same time, and yes, they look great together. No, we wouldn’t have chosen every single tulip and daffodil in the mixes, but then, we wouldn’t have known to choose others that are, as it turns out, our favorites.

The daffs are unquestionably a great investment. No animal or other pest eats daffodil bulbs, which are poisonous; no disease affects them; and they multiply year after year during their very long perennial lives. (Think peonies and 50-year spans.)

Tulips, on the other hand, are simply an indulgence. Even the longest-lived, so-called “perennial” tulips like the Darwin hybrids bloom for five years at best; bulbs like the ones we bought will be unlikely to bloom a second year, though they may send up foliage, teasing us with hopes of blooms that never come. Species tulips are, in fact, true perennials, but they’re the size of crocuses and, while colorful enough, bear no resemblance to what most of us think of as tulips.

So why did we buy this tulip mix, knowing that we’d probably only see blooms this spring? Well, we had a gift certificate. It cost no more than a lavish flower arrangement, but would last much longer. And, okay, we love tulips, but never splurge on them because the flowers are short-lived and the bulbs seldom produce a second bloom.

In short, I guess we were suffering from modern-day tulipomania. The original tulipomania struck the Netherlands, specifically Holland, in 1636. Tulips, which originated in Turkey, had been imported into Holland and found the climate to their liking. The colorful flowers became a big hit. And then, multicolored flowers with bold color combinations and exotic “flamed” petals (such as white blooms with red “flames” on the petals) began turning up in growers’ fields. Pandemonium ensued, and prices shot up.

The phenomenon became known as tulipomania, and it became famous as the first financial bubble. At its height, a single bulb of one of the rarest varieties, such as ‘The Viceroy’ or ‘Semper Augustus’, could cost more than ten times as much as a skilled craftsman made in a year, or as much as two tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat swine, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogsheads of wine, 4 tuns of beer, a bed, a suit of clothes, a silver drinking cup, 4 lasts of rye, and 2 lasts of wheat combined. For ONE bulb.

Who was paying these prices?!! Wealthy collectors and speculators. Tulipomania was fueled by a number of strange and rare phenomena colliding, creating mass hysteria and zero common sense. First, the 30 Years’ War had been raging throughout the Germanies and sucker-punching the Netherlands, leaving it weak and depleted. Next, the bubonic plague was raging through the Netherlands at the time, creating a carpe diem (“live for today”) attitude, be it a lust for beautiful bulbs or a love of wine, women and song. And finally, most bizarre of all, no bulbs were actually changing hands during these transactions. The Bitcoins of their day, tulip bulbs were bought and sold on the open market by speculators who had zero interest in planting or selling actual tulip bulbs, only in making a fast buck.

Tulipomania peaked in 1636, then crashed in February 1637, when nobody showed up at the weekly bulb auction in Haarlem. (And yes, New York was originally settled by the Dutch, which is why it has “Harlem.”) To add to the irony, even if everyone who’d been bidding on tulip bulbs had been an avid gardener or collector, they wouldn’t have realized that all those exotic color combinations and “flames” on the petals were caused by a virus, which weakened the bulbs and ensured that the tulip varieties couldn’t possibly be seed-propagated and would die out in a matter of two or three years.

Today’s tulips don’t have viruses, even if they do display gorgeous flames of color. But they’re still usually one-season wonders. Which is why we’re considering our stunning display a one-time event. Unless somebody gives us another gift certificate.

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Fall bulbs for spring bloom. October 26, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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Silence Dogood here. For many years, I’ve wanted to plant White Flower Farm’s naturalizing daffodil mix called “The Works.” You get 100 bulbs of at least 30 varieties of daffodils. As anyone who grows daffodils knows, they’re long-lived, trouble-free, and deer-proof. Also squirrel-proof. Nobody and nothing is going to bother those poisonous bulbs, and they multiply all on their own every year.

There’s just one little problem, besides the fact that you have to plant them: You have to plant them in fall. As in, now, when it’s hitting 29 degrees at night here in our part of scenic PA. Not exactly planting weather, if you ask me, and totally counterintuitive for spring-blooming bulbs.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. I was sitting in an examining room with our friend Ben this morning, waiting for his doctor to appear, when a pair of staff members came in and apologized for having to use the computer to call up someone’s schedule. I said it was no problem, we’d just been talking about daffodil bulbs. At which point one of the staffers said that she’d always wanted to plant daffodils and tulips but never seemed to get around to it, since it seemed like they should be planted in spring.

I told her that the one surefire daffodil you could plant in spring was the little, cheerful yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ that’s sold in pots all over the place every spring. You can enjoy the show indoors, plant out the pot’s contents when bloom is over, and the hardy little bulbs will return year after year to brighten your yard with their delightful blooms.

I, however, had finally reached a tipping point. White Flower Farm was offering “The Works” at an unbelievable discount: $56 for 100 bulbs, the cheapest I’d ever seen it. But that wasn’t all. They also had a special deal on their “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix”—100 bulbs of at least 50 different cream, primrose yellow, ivory, pink, peach, soft orange, white, rose, and lavender tulips for $59. It was time to have a serious discussion with OFB.

Most people think that to plant bulbs, you need a bulb planter, a conelike device that you shove into the soil and twist, removing enough soil to allow you to drop in a single bulb, at which point you upend the planter and dump the soil back into the hole on top of the bulb. Want to do this 200 times, while bent double on a freezing fall morning? I didn’t think so.

Fortunately, there’s a much easier alternative: trenching. Take your favorite garden spade and dig a 12-inch-wide, 6-inch-deep trench where you want to plant your bulbs. Then place the bulbs in the trench, narrow end up, 3 to 15 inches apart, depending on what sort of show you want in subsequent years, and cover them with the spaded soil, tamping it down to firm it snugly around the bulbs. No fuss, no muss, as long as somebody’s willing to dig the g-d trenches, which is where OFB came in.

“Ben, would you be willing to dig a few trenches in the front yard so I could plant some daffodils and tulips? I love the daffodil display in front of our island bed and alongside the house, and would love to extend that and plant bulbs around our parking square to brighten our spring show.”

“Trenches?!! Say what?!!”

I patiently explained that surely carting him to the eye surgeon and to work 300,000 times might warrant his digging a few trenches in return. Even OFB couldn’t argue with that.

What I didn’t tell him is the problem with tulips. Unlike daffodils, tulip bulbs aren’t poisonous, and squirrels love them. But they’re also not true perennials. Even the so-called perennial tulips bloom at best for 5 years, while daffodils are true perennials, blooming decade after decade with no care whatever. The “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix” I had my eye on would probably bloom for two years, if that.

So why plant tulips at all? In my case, the answer was simple, and so luxuriously indulgent: My brother had given me a White Flower Farm gift certificate for Christmas several years ago, and it covered the cost of both “The Works” naturalizing daffodil mix, the “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix,” and shipping and handling, and left me with a $32 credit. In other words, I could revel in a year or two of beautiful tulips for free, not to mention a lifetime of daffodils.

While White Flower Farm is having incredible deals on bulbs, I suggest that you check them out online (www.whiteflowerfarm.com). It’s not too late to bring spring beauty to your landscape! And I also think a WFF gift certificate to an ardent gardener in your family is a wonderful idea. Like me, they may wait a while to use it, but when they do, the pleasure and appreciation will be boundless.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Don’t toss those bulbs! April 16, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If you got pots of blooming bulbs for Easter, will most likely get them for Mother’s Day, or simply bought a few pots to brighten up your home and welcome spring, don’t throw them out when their blooms have dried or dropped.

Yes, we’ve all been told that you have to plant spring-flowering bulbs in fall. As a result, you may believe that those beautiful flowers have no further use and are destined for the compost heap once their blooms are past peak. But I’m here to tell you it ain’t necessarily so.

It’s apparently true that there’s no point in saving and planting out Christmastime paperwhites (I wouldn’t know, I can’t take that overpowering smell). But the pots of blooming daffodils, mini-daffs, tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocuses, and lilies that are springtime staples are an entirely different story. I just planted out my Easter bulbs yesterday (three pots of yellow and white mini-daffs and one of tulips), and am confident that they, like the generations I’ve planted out before them, will survive and thrive.

It’s so great to get these inexpensive pots of spring cheer and know that they’ll be cheering your heart and eyes for many springs to come! But the best thing about planting potted bulbs in spring is this: It’s easy to see where all your other bulbs are, so you can plant them to complement a color scheme, fill out a display, or start a new batch of bulbs where none are currently planted.

What an advantage over planting bulbs in fall, where, unless you have no bulbs at all or you’ve put markers where every one of your now-dormant bulbs is planted (talk about an eyesore, a forest of markers!), you’re dealing with a by-guess-or-by-God situation. Not so in spring, where you can see exactly what’s growing where, and won’t accidentally end up planting an orange-and-yellow daffodil next to a pink-and-white one, or slicing into your best-loved bulbs while trying to plant the new ones. Give me potted bulbs in spring every time.

         ‘Til next time,

                      Silence