What I did for love


As a commenter astutely pointed out a couple weeks back, my relationship with tulips has nothing to do with low-maintenance or saving money. I’m not sure any of my gardening is centered around those priorities. Indeed, I hope it never will be. It’s not that I want to bankrupt myself through improvident gardening; it’s just that I didn’t get into this to save money, and the more time I spend on it the more fun I have.

However, there are times when even I take pause at the ridiculous demands of my plant addiction. Take today. Buffalo has been issued with a storm warning that calls for a possible 5–8 inches of snow—with the temps going right back to normal by Wednesday. Normally, I’d treat this with amused, incredulous disdain. Even though that’s more snow in a day than we’ve had this whole mild winter, it’s going to last about 30 seconds. It could cause some tree damage, but I wouldn’t think my normal run of perennials and shrubs would suffer unduly.

Except. I have magazine peeps coming to take “beauty shots” of my successfully completed pots of tulips, and I’m speculating that big pots of tulips clobbered by 5–8 possible inches might not be so beautiful. Even if they weren’t coming, I might have done this. Months of waiting, and I’m going to let the pay-off be ruined by a freak storm? I don’t think so. So now I have six pots in the house and six more in the garage. Welcome inside, bulbs. Can I get you some coffee? Anything?

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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. We are expected to get below freezing tonight, maybe some snow. Usually I just shrug my shoulders and say, well, no blossoms on the lilacs or peonies or what ever this year. Won’t kill ’em. But this year I have some newly planted black current bushes. They will be covered.

    And Elizabeth, put something under those lovely pots of tulips so you don’t scratch or water marr that lovely wood floor!

  2. Every year when I see your tulips and forced bulbs and all those pots full of color I say to myself “Pam, you’re going to do that next year.” Has Pam ever done it? Of course not. But seeing those gorgeous flowers inside your house may do the trick. After the bulbs have done their business each year what do you do? Just stash the pots someplace and then in the fall remove the old bulbs and plant new ones? I’m sure you’ve outlined your process someplace on this blog but I’m too lazy to go back and look for the answers.

  3. Kathyrn, some of the pots are fiberglass or other synthetics, which helps; otherwise, we use the 2-person method. You have to be able to move them, even without a blizzard, as they come in and out of the unheated garage.

    Pam, I generally compost the bulbs, unless a friend wants them, in which case I advise they they be planted in an out of the way sunny spot. This is NOT geared toward reuse. Bulbs are really annuals in my container scenario. I’m fine with that; many would not be.

  4. Elizabeth, I took your advice last year and planted a bunch of pots of tulips. 2 large pots were for my sister-in-law for mothers day. We had such a warm season that the darn things bloomed in early April.

    I noticed the first tree peony is opening today. Low of 28 on Thursday. Fabulous.

  5. NICE!!! Here in Rochester, we’re only going to get a couple of inches – but it is heavy, wet and downright sloppy!

  6. As an apartment dwelling, balcony gardener, this doesnt look all that difficult compared to lugging bags of soil up two flights of stairs.

  7. Clients ALWAYS include, “low-maintenance”, “not expensive”, “organic”, “not formal” when they inquire about my services as a Landscape Designer.

    Then (because I’ve asked for pics ahead of time) they show me landscapes they love. Loads of mowing, pruning, dead-heading, annuals, perennials, fertilizer, dividing, formality, pre-emergents, expense.

    So. What to do when their words/desires do not match pictures of gardens they show me?

    They get Tara Turf (zero watering/fertilizer), flowering trees-shrubs-groundcovers-reseeding annuals, focal points on axis, daffodils-crocus, zero chemicals. Formal lines of Italy softened with billowing of English & flowers in bloom everyday of the year.

    Voila-poof-shazaaam !

    Pots of tulips? I coach them, “Please, if you’re truly concerned about money-maintenance-organic, put the bones of your garden in 1st, then the gorgeous tulips.”

    Garden & Be Well, XO Taara

  8. I’m chuckling at the phrase “Improvident gardening.” If my friends and I didn’t already have a blog name, we could call it the Improvident Gardener! I agree with you: gardening costs money. I don’t fool myself either; I just budget for it, and it’s worth every penny of joy it brings us.

  9. I’m going to try tulips in my front yard containers for next spring. Last year I planted four of the dwaft butterfly bush “Blue Chip.” I’d say three of them made it through the winter, and I’m not so sure about the fourth.

    At least with tulips followed by annuals I’ll know what I’ll get and that they’ll only last one year. Plus my spouse loves the big hybrid tulips, and growing those in the flower beds is a pain.

  10. The definition of “low maintenance” needs to to be refined. Maintenance can require time and/or physical effort. I have no problem with maintenance that requires time. I’m a born putterer. Primping, grooming, etc. are my joy. However, as I age, I want “low maintenance” in the sense of less physical effort. My hands and my back hurt when doing things they used do with ease. Gardening in pots works in that sense.

    I’ve probably said this before, but you really should get a potlifter. It makes moving those big pots so much easier.

  11. I fully understand. I am a recovering tulipaholic. Every year I WRITE ‘No more tulips!’ in my journal, reminding myself that this is zone 8b. Later I write, “Well maybe some purple.”
    Everything possible happens once I get them past the chilling in the refrigerator stage. One spring the new puppy ate them! I’ve started a romance with white muscari to try to get over tulips.

  12. Elizabeth, Your previous posts on potting tulips inspired me to try it this year. My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture. I’ll definitely do it again.

  13. I think the tulips would like to watch some good gardening shows on TV. Oh, wait, there aren’t any. Oh, well, I’m sure they are outside again by now, grateful for the “hospitality” you gave them, the shelter from the storm.

  14. Very nice pots-I’m sure you will get questions on how they “survived” the snow.
    Good way to save the flowers from the deer too.

    While we have no spring snows forecast just that lovely 29 degree weather again (thursday).

  15. Your title and the photo of the pots of tulips brought to mind my story . . What I Did for Love – As I stood pondering the ragged looking lavendar plants that lined our front walkway in mid February, I realized that it was time for their hard pruning which wouldn’t improve their looks right then, but would maybe improve their appearance later this summer. My husband happened by and asked when was I going to get rid of those plants that caused his skin to break out when he walked by them in shorts (in the summer). That question from my loved one coupled with a recently issued challenge from my neighbor across the street about this year’s “Tulip Wars”, made the decision for me. I ripped out the lavender plants,gave them to a friend who raises bees, and popped in pots of yellow and red tulips. It is looking great. I kept one lavendar plant for our own bees later this summer.

  16. Love your beautiful tulips!

    Has anyone read Art Wolk’s “Bulb Forcing” published just not too long ago? I think it’s hands down the best book on this subject for a beginner.I think I will finally have some forced bulbs this coming winter.

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