Bad Influences


I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth Licata and I are tulip-obsessed.  It probably has something to do with climate.  We suffer through five months of winter in our respective corners of New York State, and then, suddenly, in late April, the tulips appear and there is color! artifice! life! in the world.

My feeling about tulips is the more unnatural, the better.  The bigger, the weirder, the showier, the more ephemeral and expensive, the happier I get. 

Egged on by my degeneracy, Elizabeth’s already bad bulb habit seems to be getting worse.  She planted one of my favorite doubles this year, Orange Princess.  That’s right.  It’s orange and it’s double, and I am not apologizing for it.

But it’s not as if the influence isn’t working the other way, too.  I’ve heard Elizabeth express her love for species tulips and paid attention.  My only previous experience of species tulips is tulipa tarda, below.


It’s nice enough, but not any more exciting than a crocus.  In fact, considerably less exciting than my crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ a screaming purple aggressive enough to rend winter in two.

But last fall, inspired by Elizabeth, I planted two other taller species tulips.  Tulipa sylvestris is below. I love the way the outer petals bend back while the inner stay firmly shut.


I also planted an ORANGE species, tulipa whittallii, which was stunning yesterday, but is refusing to open today in a slight chill.

These tulips are unusual, graceful, striking, and natural all at the same time.  Not that I’m giving up my Orange Princesses, but there are places where a little bit of subtlety works, too.  Now, get Brent & Becky’s Bulbs on the line!  I need more for next year.


  1. Huh, I’ve never considered ordering specific Tulips… I always just plunk in the one the store bought plants we get in January for a little change of indoor color, or the ones relatives get us for Easter every year. (My tulip patch looks about like the crowd at a dead show color wise and in mangyness)

    But if there are orange doubles…? did you say ephemeral?
    …I may need to do some research, but I may just be paying for what will amount to pretty gopher food… if they even get that far.

  2. If you want to see a flame-streaked WILD TULIP in its native habitat, a photo taken only yesterday onthe slopes of Mt. Ida, in the Kaz Daglari (Goose Mountains) above the plain of Troy in NW Turkey)– then come hither….

    Ketzel Levine and friends are out there being blown away by wild violas, orchids, and of course– TULIPS… Photos from the field and a brief description of each day’s tour program will continue through 08 May…

    holly (at) hollychase (dot) com

  3. …and if you go to Ketzel’s own turf,, you’ll see two more shots that just came in at 2 PM EDT.

    Tulipa silvestris is coiling and tightly budded (do Turkish deer not like tulips?)


  4. I just went for a ride out front for inspiration. And of course it was to your garden in front Michelle. Your garden is beautiful. I think this is your best. Spring is truly here now!

  5. You need Lady Jane. Tulip Clusiana Lady Jane – I got it from Bluestone and it is so charming. The petals close up in the evening and open during the day. You can see it here.

  6. I’ve been promoting wildflowers for years! Tulips aren’t NATIVE wildflowers (the Russian Steppes (prairies) turn scarlett from millions of wild tulips every Spring!), but they are beautiful and require no care. They take care of themselves and multiply themselves; plant ’em and forget!

    I have about 12 species; I have about 1,000 Tardas, with scattered clumps of the rest.

    Anyway…there are early, middle, and late varieties; they are carried by a number of dealers (High Country Gardens carries many). I finally persuaded the local park district to plant a couple of hundred:)

  7. Require no care is a good point. Just today at work walking among the masses of iris’ tulips and leftover dafodills, I wondered why bulbs don’t take a more predominate role in drought wise gardening. I guess they don’t look right protruding from succulents and cacti.
    And in a few weeks they are gone… (though thats kind of the fun of it right?)

    I love driving out to the backroads this time of year because you can see old homesteads sites by the profusion of pears, apples, and bulbs in bloom.
    Rarely, just rarely a chimney may remain, but the old pioneer plantings are still going strong long after the houses have gone!

  8. The sylvestris is very appealing, Michele. After 10 tulip-less springs in Texas I tried Tulipa clusiana and want to plant more species tulips this fall. But sort of wish that double orange would live here!

    If you wonder how bulbs look when popped among the cactus – check out my photo from the San Antonio Zoo on Annie’s Addendum and decide for yourselves.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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