Tulips for the soul

Janice Wells
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My weekly deadline for writing this column is Tuesday. Now think back to Tuesday morning. It’s a snow day. On a snow day all the rules go out the window. We have a siege mentality. We eat, drink and do things that we would not normally do on a regular Tuesday.

I think the very fact that I can sit down and write a gardening column without even having even been tempted to dump a slug of gin in my breakfast orange juice says something about the strength of my character.

Let’s think tulips today.

When you’re in the grocery store stocking up on whatever you need to get you through this endless torment, buy yourself a bunch of tulips. They’re everywhere now and not expensive. Some places have better bargains than others, but I’m not here to advertise and they’re all worth it anyway.

I had a lot of opportunity to admire tulips recently. I realized that, while I’ve never placed tulips high on my favourites list in the garden, they are possibly my very favourite in the vase.

I do admire the blooms of tulips, but for the most part I don’t admire the form; upright and straight. I know there are tulips that have a slightly more relaxed form, but for the most part they are more “At-tehn-shun!” in the garden, than “at ease,” and my “At-tehn-shun” days, if they ever really existed, are long gone.

Also, unless you treat tulips as annuals and pull them up and discard them when they’re done, the dying foliage they leave behind is unsightly.

You have to leave it because that’s how the bulb gathers strength for the next season. Really good gardeners have perennials strategically planted to hide the foliage, but my strategic planning usually works better in theory than in practice. I cannot break the habits of a lifetime and bring myself to throw them out, so I don’t have enough tulips in my little garden to also supply cut flowers.

But I’ve decided I must do something about that because the wonderful thing about tulips is that as soon as you put them in a vase they feel like they’re off duty and they start to relax. In the process of unwinding, the stems take on the most graceful of curves and forms and if you add fresh water every day they charmingly rearrange themselves.

I find if you miss a day without adding fresh water they will droop and you may be fooled into thinking they’re finished, but unless the petals are falling off, they’ve still got lots of pleasure left in them to give.

Gardeners with lots of space often will plant a bed just for cutting, which is kind of ironic because you can cut a bouquet from a larger garden without diminishing the look of the garden much easier than you can in a small garden.

So while I’m lying in bed enjoying the tulips Baby Sister brought me, I add another note to the plans for the new garden I’m dreaming of in Heart’s Content, and a note for St. John’s.

In the harbour garden I will have lots of places to plant tulips for cutting; under the laburnum tree, behind the shed, on the far side of the bunkhouse. (It’s not going to be a ‘real’ year-round house. I’ve been trying to get used to the word cottage, but it sounds so mainland, and to me a cabin is in the woods, not by the ocean. My place is inspired by a summer cookhouse owned by friends, so maybe “the bunkhouse” will stick.)

In St. John’s I’m thinking, why don’t I just plant a few hundred bulbs next door at Step-Son’s place? They’ll improve the look of his place and I can just help myself to bouquets without affecting the look of my little garden.

Why didn’t I think of that before?

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size

photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

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