4. Only the good die young.
I did not plant these, and I moved into my house in October of 2002, which ought to give you an idea of the staying power of these anonymous babies. Not only have they hung around for four and a half years, I actively encourage my four and a half year-old to pick them for bouquets and then I unceremoniously rip their foliage out of the ground. So their reappearance–yet again!–ought to be a tremendous argument for Darwin Hybrids. The only problem is that I’m not interested in Darwin Hybrid colors, those reds, those taxicab yellows, those boring medium pinks. All of my favorite tulips–oranges, purples, maroons, weird bi-colors, parrots, lily-flowers–look fantastic for a season, and then never rear their heads again. No matter. They are worth the trouble of replanting every year.
5. Size matters.
Winter started so late last year that I clearly had too much time last fall to get into trouble. I not only got all the bulbs I’d ordered from Brent & Becky’s into the ground, I had time to loiter around Lowe’s and buy up the stuff they had hanging around the shelves. So I brought home a few bags of a mixture of two Triumph varieties, a pale yellow and a yellow streaked with lilac. The colors are not bad, but the flowers are just too small. I don’t know if this is a function of the size of the bulb or the fact that they were stored on a shelf in the blazing sun. But tulips, unlike crocuses, ought to be as big and jazzy as possible.
The first tulips I ever bought, I bought from a failing country nursery owned by a sweet young couple. I remember getting all of 16 bulbs–8 ‘Fringed Elegance’ and 8 ‘Apeldoorn.’ They came to about 20 dollars and as I paid, the young woman apologized, "Sorry they cost so much. They cost us more than the Agway would charge you–but they’re really good bulbs."
Really good does not begin to describe it. The blooms were as big as a baby’s head. And since these were Darwin Hybrids (‘Fringed Elegance’ is definitely the exception to my no-DH rule), they lasted for years, the flowers getting smaller but more numerous. I’d gladly pay a premium to get bulbs like this again, but never see them offered. Another nursery owner told me that he could order super-premium bulbs from the wholesalers. But generally didn’t.
Alas, my kingdom for another bunch of ‘Fringed Elegance’ of that size.
6. Hyacinths are ridiculous and let’s not pretend.
Last year, I read somewhere that of all antique bulbs, the hyacinth varieties are the most threatened, thanks to the indifference of modern gardeners. Well, that made me sympathetic. Plus, I’ve always loved the fragrance of hyacinths, and like I said, had too much time last fall to get into trouble in Lowe’s. So I bought a dozen and a half of a subtle yellow variety, planted them in little clumps of three and thought maybe they’d look natural that way. Nope. Their heavy heads make them flop over idiotically. The common hyacinths clearly don’t belong in the garden. A fancy-assed pot is more like it.
7. The daffodil’s a wild child.
I’ve planted them in my city garden, refined types like ‘Thalia’ and a fragrant double called ‘Bridal Crown.’ And they do zero for me. On the other hand, the anonymous yellow ones I inherited in the country, placed in random clumps around my pond, make me smile.