By Paige Patterson
So we all know I have a problem, but this year I thought I was going to be better. I vowed that I would plant no bulbs. The reasons for me not to are multiple. I am not wealthy, and tulips, with their brief fleeting moment of beauty and their real lack of interest in returning, are somewhat of an indulgence. Also, over the last couple of years I’ve planted a whole bunch of bulbs, and I have been very bad. I have not marked where any of those hundreds and hundreds of bulbs have gone. And last year, I ordered so many bulbs compulsively that I needed help to get them all in.
Unfortunately my help dug too many holes too close together and put too many bulbs in each hole. In spring we had chaos. All sorts of perennials were missing, and although we had a cacophony of fabulous color, when the flowers started, by the time all the foliage was up, it was way too crowded and the leaves started to rot and to suffocate the remaining perennials who had survived the killing spades of fall.
I vowed this year to take a break. And to mark, in the spring, all the places where my bulbs reside. In short I said there would be no bulb buying.
Of course, I am going to try very hard to not plant any more bulbs in the beds that are already stuffed to the gills, but I realized that there are many other places where I could put bulbs, especially my beloved tulips.
If you’ve read any of my columns you know that my husband, the chef, seems fairly uninterested in cooking from our vegetable garden. To be fair, he liked the lettuces before the chickens got them, and he’s a fan of my garlic and the chives, but he doesn’t get inspired by the garden, instead he tends to decide what he wants to eat first, and then goes and finds it at farm stands. But I also should add that it is kind of scary going out there to find stuff since I’m not a big weeder, and since I mulched the path with large piles of hay one must weave through. And he does love and use our tomatoes, in spite of the challenge of getting them.
So, why not plant tulips in the vegetable garden instead, and then in spring add in the beloved-by-all-of-us dahlias? The moment I thought of it, I placed my first order. And of course, since I work at Marders and I choose all the bulbs that come into the store, I also have to grab the last bag from each box as they get low. Plus when there’s only a couple of bulbs left, no one else really wants them, so I have to give them a home, right?
I know you all understand this, and to be fair, I did give my favorite bulb customer first choice of everything (wiping us out of seven fabulous varieties the first day the bulbs went out – I still long for the Red Mohican Alliums he got.)
So now the floodgates are open. My client took all my Night Riders, so I’ve had to source more just for myself, paying a premium for the pleasure and while I was on these other rarified bulb sites I got lost down an internet rabbit hole and came up with a longing for the double early tulips that are called artichokes and brown tulips.
I know, I know, they both sound crazy, but I want you to log on to the internet and search for a tulip named ‘Boa Vista.’ Then tell me if I’m crazy or not. These tulips are multi-petaled with petals running down their stems so they look more like cabbages or artichokes (thus the nickname) than flowers and they will be incredible in bouquets. I must have. I’m actually trying to track down peeps in England who might be conned into breaking the law and mailing me a few. Burpee had the ‘Brooklyn’ but of course it’s way too late for me since I paused this fall and they sold out in a nanosecond. Silly me. I am now desperate to track down ‘Compassion’ or ‘Sinopel’ or ‘Purple Tower.’ Anyone traveling to the Netherlands for Thanksgiving with an empty suitcase? While you are there I also am looking to track down the elusive ‘Bruine Wimpel,’ a silvery, beige, pinkish tea-stained tulip you would weep for. Be still my heart! Remember I’m a girl who started gardening because I loved making bouquets and this amazing color would go with everything, so please ship me back some of these beauties too.
And finally let me explain about brown tulips. The only place I know to buy them is oldhousegardens.com where you can get four, I repeat four brown tulips for $50. Divine, no? The brown tulips were huge in the Arts and Crafts era according to their website, but I think they’d be divine in any era. Many of the brown shades are actually broken tulips, which are exceedingly rare and are caused by a virus. Broken tulips, however, are a lust to be pursued another day. Right now I might be curbing my cravings for caramel, cinnamon, bronze and chocolate with ‘Cairo’ which is sort of toffee colored and fantastic and ‘Princess Irene,’ which is really more orange than amber with red stains not brown, but there still are a lot of them left in the bin box at Marders.
Paige Patterson believes that a gift of bulbs for Halloween is almost as good as a bag of candy although she really does have a terrible thing for very good dark chocolate.