Tulips—surreal and otherwise



Enjoy them while they last. I wish everything could be like bulbs. Last month I dragged a bunch of big pots out of my garage; this month they’re providing a bright ribbon of color around the otherwise immature green of my back garden. In the front yard, the combination of tulips, late daffodils, and early perennials make the last big pop before the deep shade of the surrounding maples takes over.


This week the NY Times Magazine had a salute to tulips from an unusual perspective—the air above Holland. Here’s the slide show by photographer Julian Faulhaber. Images like these make me wonder if I should take a more formal or minimalist approach—choose 3, 2, or even 1 colors and stick with a plan. It will never happen, of course. What does happen is that the bulbs themselves guide me in certain directions. All the clusiana are very reliable returners so I will likely keep planting them, even though I don’t love them as much as the whittali. I should probably give up on the acuminata and the humilis “alba coerulea oculata.”


And I’ll always have my fads. Right now I’m in love with t. gregii “Fire of Love.” My big “what was I thinking” this season is the inexplicable pairing (in a couple containers) of Prinses Irene and Synaeda Amor. I thought it would be orange and purple, but it’s more like orange and pink—the kind of dull, muddy pink I don’t like. Ouch.


In the Times piece, the comment was that tulips keep us sane when winter doesn’t quite want to loosen its grip. That was certainly true in the dreary chill of yesterday, which also happened to be Bloom Day. For me, the 5/15 GBBD will always be about tulips, as much as I love brunnera, epimedium, hellebores, pulmonaria, and all the other early perennials—not to mention shrubs and trees—they will always be the context, not the stars. But the context is important. (Eventually a big field of tulips gets kind of boring. Even from the air.)

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The tulips set amid the early hosta leaves are just lovely. For me, it’s a meditation on transitions: in part of the scene, the hosta leaves will soon (I think) take over as the tulips finish up. Beautiful.

  2. I bought at least a dozen bags of bulbs last autumn. I told the gardener to plant them wherever he pleased, so I had a lovely surprise going all spring, as I never knew what color and flower would erupt from where.

    I don’t think I need to buy any more of the King Alfred style of daff, though: I’ll go for different colors and variations. More tulips, too–as many as I can afford, I think, along with more crocus assortment.

    I don’t think he’s got enough time to plant all the iris rhizomes I’ve been buying this month or next…

  3. Sometimes it’s just wonderful to see anything growing after the winter. No matter what color, or if it clashes, it’s still beautiful.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  4. When I looked at the aerial shots of the tulip fields of Holland a Cheech and Chong phrase lept to mind: “Far out, dude”, said in Tommy Chong’s best stoner voice. I like the species tulips the best. I have a lovely little all yellow one that looks divine with the green and yellow striped hoki- whatever grass. It came in a mix of species bulbs. Shouldn’t be too difficult to identify, I thought. Wrong. So I think I will just let it multiply on its own and not try to supplement with more bulbs. Which means I can try some other speicies tulip.

  5. I was in the Netherlands two years ago for the bulb display. Amazing doesn’t even begin to cover it! Elizabeth, I don’t see how you could be bored with it if you saw it in person. The Keukenhof is one of the most wonderful places a gardener could go in springtime!

    This year, my favorite tulip is an heirloom variety that I got from Old House Gardens called ‘Absalon’. It’s a burgundy/brown Rembrandt type with some of the most interesting flames I’ve ever seen. I think it dates back to the 18th century at least, and I love it so much I’m ordering more for this fall.

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