It’s Nice That We Talk


Gardening is a solitary pursuit. Just one human and a shovel.

But, God love the Internet, there’s a lot the solitary gardener can learn from the solitary obsessions of other gardeners.  For example, even a die-hard hybrid tulip fanatic, the kind of bulb-buyer who thinks that if it’s not a vibrating purple color, nor fringed, nor striped, nor double, nor gigantic in flower, it’s not worth bothering with, might after exchanging ideas with Elizabeth Licata, begin to appreciate the subtler charms of species tulips.

While Purple Prince is likely to remain my favorite tulip for the foreseeable future–vibrating purple color, plus as a Single Early that shows up in cool weather, its blooms last a long, long, long time–the bulbs I am most excited about putting in the ground right now are more Licata-like than Owens-like.

They include tulipa sylvestris, below, which were just wonderful last year.


And iris histrioides ‘George.’


  1. I put in about 500 “minor” bulbs this fall. Maybe next year I’ll put in some tulips. Something like the T. acuminata is bizarre and delicate at the same time; The best of both worlds.

  2. Lovely! One nice thing about species tulips is that some of them are small enough bulbs to make planting easier. Digging holes for my narcissus last week was hard work (they’ve got some big butts).

    Of course, the more tulips you have, the more you want, right? I’m jonesing for more land, now.

  3. Yes, thank goodness for the internet! As a teenager, I learned to garden from the wonderful folks on gardenweb and The Rose Hybridizers Association. I’ve now got 6 years (And counting… someday, someday, I will graduate for the last time) of formal academic training in horticulture, but I still think I’ve learned more from great people online than in my classes.

  4. I’ve been ranting about wild Tulips for years (first planted Tardas about 25 years ago). I’ve persuaded the local park district to start planting them.

    I must have 1000 or more Tardas by now…and about 10 other varieties.

  5. Paige, I don’t know. I have tulipa tarda, which I planted four or five years ago that come back strong every year.

    But tulipa sylvestris I planted for the first time last spring.

  6. I find that the tarda, humilis, and clusiana return reliably–5 years for me. Notice how great they look with her viola; you need critical mass like that and you need to plant more each year for best effect.
    Warning: the acuminata is pricey and does not return well!

  7. Rebloom…as in from year to year? Tarda spreads well; I haven’t planted any Tarda in more than a decade. Nothing eats it, either…

    The others don’t spread as much; some may sometimes be eaten (but not often; most are reliable in bloom.

    I had sylvestris for the first time this year… We will see how they do…

    I also planted dwarf iris; the yellow ones “bombed out”, the purple ones did great…

  8. All great feedback, thank you! I haven’t done tulips because they seem too much like annuals. I’ll try the T.tarda and T.syvestris.

  9. I planted Tulipa turkestanica in pots 6 years ago for a Garden Club anniversary. Those that I rescued after spring bloom downtown, are still blooming in my north side of the mountain, zone 6a garden, in dappled sun. They are a multiflowered crack-of-spring bloomer that is well worth the wade through the late winter flotsam. There is deer fence protection and they have survived possible mice, rabbits, and groundhogs damage.

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