Photo by Melody

Weeks and Weeks and Weeks of Tulips!

By Lori Geistlinger (McGloryMarch 15, 2012

Everyone who would listen was told of tulips that would one day grace the front of the porch of our new house. The grand idea met negative reactions. “Tulips only bloom for a week,” was the constant comment, followed by the logical question, “What will you do when the tulips are gone?” Each contradictory response strengthened my resolve. I wasn’t even a gardener yet. But I would show them. I would show them all!

Gardening picture

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 24, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.) 

My beginner knowledge was that tulips are divided into 14 Divisions, each division somewhat predictable in its bloom time.  There used to be 15 divisions, Division 9 being Rembrandt tulips, but Rembrandts were dropped from the division list, as they are tulips with a virus rather than a distinct division. 

I went to Plant Files, where each tulip is designated a division, and Brent & Becky's Bulbs web site, where tulips are listed by division.  Height was considered.  Tall tulips needed to be in the back, of course.  I decided red and yellow would be the perfect color combination against the white house.  Then the research began.

Divisions seem to be shoved into early spring, mid-spring, and late spring bloom times.  Don't believe it.  Not even for a minute.  The early, mid, late idea is a guide rather than a guarantee.  There are several sources offering their own versions of early, mid, and late spring blooming divisions, but these sources frequently conflict.  Armed with all this information, I made myself the following chart:

 Early Spring Blooming Division 14 species tulips


 Division 12 Fosteriana tulips


 Division 1 Single Early tulips


 Division 13 Greggii tulips


 Division 2 Double Early tulips


 Division 11 Kaufmanniana tulips
 Mid-Spring Blooming Division 3 Triumph tulips


 Division 4 Darwin Hybrid tulips


 Division 7 Fringed tulips
 Late Spring Blooming Division 10 Double Late tulips


 Division 6 Lily-Flowering tulips


 Division 9 Parrot tulips


 Division 5 Single Late tulips


 Division 8 Viridiflora tulips
I found myself researching for certain heights of tulips that bloomed red in early spring, certain heights that bloomed in yellow in late spring, using different divisions to attain two rows that bloomed at the same time in early spring, mid-spring, and late spring.  This process took weeks of planning, hours of studying, all for a result that I wasn't sure would work.  I didn't tell anyone of my insecurity, of course.  I just told the skeptics how beautiful it would be. The doubters patiently explained how tulips shouldn't be planted in rows like little soldiers.  Clumps, they said, was the way to go.  I planned for soldier-rows out of spite.  Surely planting in soldier fashion is patriotic. 

I placed my bulb order with two different companies in the fall.  Handsome Man nearly fainted at the credit card bill, so I didn't tell him it only showed one of two companies.  I assured him the result would be beautiful.  Next month when the credit card bill had the Brent & Becky's order on it, he almost had a stroke.  I reminded him that landscaping added to the value of the property, and that since we had so many bulbs to plant he didn't have time for a stroke.  Non-gardening spouses need reminded of things like that.

Reeling from his large investment, Handsome Man insisted on helping.  Thus began his story that he supports my gardening habit by providing finances and backbone.  He still clings to the story.  Everyone laughed at my purchase of 20 pounds of bone meal, but I insisted the four-pound bags were too puny for the Tulip Project, as it had come to be known.  Handsome Man unknowingly fed my insecurity.  "Sweetheart," he would say, "Are you sure this will work?"

I would quickly and confidently answer in the affirmative.

One entire weekend was spent planting bulbs.  Handsome Man dug out the entire 22-inch by 32-foot bed by hand, ridding it of the nasty construction clay.  We added two inches of topsoil.  I then added six different varieties of tulips.  Keeping track of which was which when the bulbs mostly look alike was no small feat.  I planted them in clumps of three, with clumps in a military-style row.  Each clump contained tulips of supposedly the same height, but a different bloom time.  The front clumps consisted of one short early blooming variety, one short mid-spring blooming variety, and one short late-spring bloomer.  Or at least they were supposed to.  It was all very confusing, so I made myself another chart.

 Front rowPrinceps 




 Pieter de Leur
 Back row Decora


 Golden Apeldoorn



Princeps is a Fosteriana (early), tarda is a species (early), Pieter de Leur is a Lily-Flowering (late).  Already I had messed up the front row, having two early-bloomers and no mid-spring blooming tulips.  I bought stock in Excedrin.

Decora is a Fosteriana (early), Golden Apeldoorn is a Darwin Hybrid (mid), and Cashmir is a Single Early (early).  I had done it again!  All my research and careful consideration netted me no late-bloomers in the back row.  As I ranted and raved, Handsome Man quietly bought his own stock in Excedrin.


In spite of it all, the bulbs are in!

Someone dared tell me there was nothing academic about gardening, and certainly nothing scholarly required in planting bulbs.  Every cynic went on the List of the Accursed, those who would receive photos later. 



On March 2, there were sprouts.  The List of the Accursed received a phone call, a few reminding me there was snow in the forecast.  Panic sent me pleading to Handsome Man, who came back from the local lumberyard with plywood to make a tent.  Twenty-twenty hindsight says the tulips would have been fine under a little snow, but vengeance demanded drastic measures.


Tulip Tent

Handsome Man, Architect

By the first week in April there were buds.  By the middle of May the last blooms were winding down.  I took photos.  I invited the List of the Accursed to visit.  I announced my success at the post office downtown.  I snipped a couple of blooms and displayed them on my desk at work.  Strangers drove by slowly, observing the red and yellow masses.  Neighbors spoke glowingly of my tulips all during the summer months.


The tulip rebellion should have been victorious with the success expounded by witnesses, some of whom were former cynics from the List of the Accursed.  But it was not.  I should get eight weeks of blooms instead of five.  I may sneak some of the species tulips out next fall and plant a short, yellow late-bloomer instead.  The poor little tarda tulips were insignificant anyway, buried beneath the broad foliage of the Fosterianas. 


Last fall I ordered 10 bulbs of each division by phone.  The plan was to plant them in a test patch far from the street.  I will perfect the early, mid, late blooming timing myself.  The customer service lady said, "If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing exactly?"

"Conducting an experiment," I said.  I have learned.  I have learned that bragging and vengeance only serves to help the likes of Novartis.  If I call it an experiment, however, the results can be anything.  And that bloom-time by division guide?  While everyone else's will be a guide, mine will be a guarantee.  But I'm not boasting.

  About Lori Geistlinger  
Lori GeistlingerLori and her husband, Handsome Man, garden in the heart of Tornado Alley in the Midwest. She likes perennials, because if they don't come back, chances are she forgot she planted them and doesn't realize she killed them. Don't take her too seriously.

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