Featured Plant: Tulip
Perhaps the tulip is the only earthly bloom that boasts a Golden Age. Yes, Tulipmania was really a thing. There was a time in the 17th century when a single bulb might fetch as much as $25K! Understandably, the boom was short and eventually painful, with a lot of traders losing their shirts, but the tulip remains beloved and ever in demand.
Considered the most planted flower in the world, it boasts more than 3000 varieties of all colors, shapes and sizes. Humble names like Queen of the Night, Purple Prince, Viceroy, Triumph and Rembrandt proclaim its glory, and festivals worldwide devote themselves entirely to the bloom.
Tulips are the most varied and colorful of all spring flowers and, like daffodils, a welcome warmth after the gray of winter. A red one might represent a declaration of love while, according to Shozo Sato, Japanese master of Zen arts and author of my favorite ikebana book, Ikebana the Art of Arranging Flowers, the tulip symbolizes charity and kindness, timely qualities indeed.
They are also one of the easiest flowers you'll ever grow. Just plant the bulbs in late fall before the first frost for blossoms the following spring. You’ll want to start with good bulbs, although no need for the $25K variety! You’ll find good value at less than a dollar apiece. Plant a few or a hundred! Look for large, firm bulbs as they retain more stored energy and will result in big, bright blooms.
Technically, the tulip is considered a perennial, but some climates and varieties make it more of an annual. If you're lazy, as I am, try Darwin hybrids or Emperors for the best chance of a repeat performance. Otherwise, simply remove the bulbs after they finish blooming and plant fresh ones each fall.
Gratifyingly versatile, they’ll grow in sun or part shade, in well-drained soil or a raised bed. Plant at 6” to 8” deep, pointy end up. After blossoming, remove the flower heads at about an inch below and allow the foliage to grow and store energy until it turns yellow, then cut back to the ground.
Here’s a tip for apartment or condo dwellers: After your summer annuals fade, plant tulip bulbs in your containers or window boxes. Try the Greigii or double early varieties. They'll slumber all winter long outside your window and, like the peal of a bell, joyfully ring in the arrival of spring.
For use in ikebana, here are a couple tricks to make your arrangements longer lasting and maybe a little quirky:
-- To avoid the dreaded tulip droop, after clipping a stalk and putting it in water, take a straight pin and pierce the stem about a half-inch from the blossom. This will release any air that might be clogging the channel and allow water to travel up the entire stem. This simple hack never ceases to amaze me. No droop!
-- To add interest to your arrangement, consider peeling a few petals back for a fuller look. You may give birth to an entirely different genus!