Gardening with Galligan: For color, plant tulips

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO A bunch of my tulips. So many colors!
A bunch of my tulips. So many colors!

Want more bang for the buck? Think tulips. There is no easier, better source of color for your garden.

Tulips and daylilies, like many other flowers, come in early, middle and late varieties, thereby affording a long season of bloom. They have been hybridized extensively, but in my view the older ones are best. The new doubles, for example, are top-heavy, unable to stand up to heavy rain. There’s nothing more demoralizing than finding a beautiful bloom smashed down on the mulch or in the mud.

Tulips do have significant disadvantages and these include the fact that they are bulbs. This means, like every other bulb, they must ripen in order to find the strength to bloom again. This also means that unless you want to dig them up and plant them elsewhere while they “ripen,” they are going to do it in your garden, providing you with what you don’t want, which is an unsightly mess of no-color green gradually changing to an ugly brown.

The solution is to treat tulips as if they were annuals, pulling them up, throwing them away and replanting the bed with summer-blooming annuals. Using annuals in this way also works as a map for the fall, to show you where the tulips should be planted. I admit that there is a major drawback to this plan — it’s expensive. But if you can afford it, it’s the way to go.

Tulips have a long, interesting and fairly complicated history, not just from a botanical standpoint but also from a political one. At one time in Holland, they were actually used as currency. They’re still a significant aspect of the Dutch economy. The beds at the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens outside Amsterdam, for which there must be a zillion tours available, provide many tourist dollars.

Tip of the week: If you don’t have a copy of the White Flower Farm’s catalog, you should send for one ASAP.

Go online at or call 800-503-9624. You won’t be sorry.

It’s free and one of the best guides available. It not only gives you accurate information on bloom time and plant requirements, it actually tells you how to pronounce their names as well. It’s also worth a visit to their farm in Litchfield, Connecticut.

I’ve never been there that I haven’t learned something new.

Update of the week: Continuing to keep track of our winter wins and losses, let me note the following.

Although the crocuses in my balcony planters didn’t make it, the tulips did, at least almost. They’re noticeably smaller and shorter than they should be.

It’s unclear, however, whether this is due to the weather or the failing of the wholesale house from which they were purchased. Wholesale houses sometimes can be borderline satisfactory. This seems true of some of the outside flowers as well.

But the good news, and for me it’s really good news, is that my pyracantha, with its brown leaves, will not turn into Quasimodo. Thank goodness I didn’t get around to pruning it. The growth is truly extraordinary — every branch of brown leaves has dozens and dozens of tiny, green shoots emerging. When, or if, it will bloom remains uncertain, but even if it doesn’t and I have to skip one season of berries, I will accept the temporary setback and feed it faithfully.