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Tulip spotting

I’ve been tulip spotting. Tulips are blazing the entire length of the Roaring Fork Valley. Their simple, uncluttered shape, solid yet sleek, and their brilliant coloring is a fine contrast to the opulence of flowering trees like crabapples (Malus species), clotted with masses of small white, pink or red flowers. But why plant tulips when the deer and cute little rodents consider them food for the gods? On May Day, the front page of a local newspaper featured a photo of glowing pink and red tulips in the West End of Aspen. At the same time, the big planters lining downtown Glenwood Springs are bursting with big lipstick colored tulips beneath densely flowering crabapples. Many houses in the older neighborhoods of Glenwood have thick drifts of bright tulips, often mixed yellow and red, along their front walk or in foundation plantings. In Willits subdivision in Basalt two neighbors have planted their young front yard gardens lavishly with tulips: One gardener has gone for drama with primary colored bulbs and the other across the street has chosen a dreamy pastel palette for an equally beautiful effect. When I went to the Eagle County Building in El Jebel to cast my vote for Home Rule I was surprised and delighted to see several beds of purplish tulips enlivening the generally unimaginative landscaping. In my own neighborhood, near the Frying Pan River, along the side of an old house slated for redevelopment soon, is a defiant row of red tulips. Every spring for years I have been watching for them, and every year like magic, there they are. Right on the riverbank, a few tulips planted years ago by a resident of the now extinct trailer court, bloom, serenely oblivious to the whole Riverwalk development. Every time I see them I grin. That’s why I plant tulips. Tulips (Tulipa species) of all kinds grow exceptionally well in our arid climate. The spell of cool and occasionally damp weather this late winter and spring, has kept the narcissus and forsythias looking lovely for a very long time. As soon as it gets hot they will be done, while the tulips carry on relishing the sun. I like them best in mixed plantings. The colors are set off by the delicious fresh greens of new leaves on bushes and perennial flowers filling out. Like all bulbs they must be allowed to grow until they die completely if you want them to bloom again next year. Since the leaves of most tulips are less obtrusive than those of daffodils as they ripen and turn yellow, they are more easily masked by the plants growing up around them. Just as I discovered by accident that bulbs bought in the fall can be kept in the fridge all winter and planted out in the spring without major ill effects, I discovered that they could be dug up and replanted at any time. Tulips have appeared randomly in my garden close by perennials I lifted and moved. They hitched a ride in an undisturbed root ball. The trick to successful transplanting is to have the new hole ready before I dig up the plant with as big a rootball as I can manage, carrying it over on my shovel and plopping it right in the ground, then pressing the soil down around it and watering well. Done right, the tulip will scarcely wilt and continue to grow and ripen its leaves according to plan. I divide clumps of tulips in bloom too, carefully pulling the bulbs apart and replanting them immediately. It’s a good way to get more tulips for no money, even if I’ve forgotten the name of the variety or if it is out of fashion and no longer available. And it’s the easiest way to get color harmonies right on. 1987 I wrote in my gardening notebook: “Am pulling all hybrid tulips as I am weary of battling the deer for them…. Forget about tulips. Stick to daffodils and hyacinths.” Of course I have done nothing of the kind. I have hedged my bets and planted lots of daffodils and hyacinths and other spring-blooming bulbs and love them, one and all. But I haven’t, I won’t give up tulips. Call me a cock-eyed optimist.Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband Gerry. The deer and rodents always leave a few dozen tulips for them to enjoy. Contact her at annasgarden@sopris.net or mail@aspentimes.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.


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