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GARDEN FANATIC:Tulips to tiptoe through

October 20, 2006|By STEVE KAWARATANI

"Tiptoe through the tulips … "

-- Tiny Tim

"Her lips were red … "

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

For a very long time, as a bachelor, I chose to grow mainly herbaceous plantings. Perhaps I indulged myself occasionally with a few patches of colorful favorites for the garden. Then I became married … and the demand for color, tulips and narcissi by my new bride, Catharine, became insistent. I began to add them to our garden in great numbers — a foolhardy thing to do, because it involved extra work I wasn't prepared to undertake.

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Faced with never-ending gardening tasks, I deemed that a reduction of our flower garden to reasonable proportions was necessary. However, it resembled my efforts to lose weight, with much difficulty, demands of self-denial and results which never quite reached expectations. At that point, Catharine happily began her own romance with the garden and became mistress of the bulbs.

The tulip is the perhaps the best-known of all bulbs. Its brilliant spring display is enjoyed throughout the world. The flowers vary considerably in color, form and height.

Tulips are spectacular when massed alone or combine beautifully with other spring flowers, such as alyssum, pansies and violas. Where you decide to enjoy tulips is only limited by your imagination: rock gardens, planting beds and containers are just a few suggestions.

Tulips are officially divided into divisions, group-related flower types, but not based on botanical relationships. To simplify my tulip purchases, I generally look for the time of bloom — early and midseason bloomers are labeled as such — and then select the colors, flower shape and size I want for my garden. With constant new introductions each season, it is wise to consult your local nursery person to keep current with the latest hybrids.

Buy tulip bulbs only from a well-stocked nursery that offers varieties selected for your climate zone. Refrigerate them at 40 to 50 degrees, in paper bags for a minimum of eight weeks (don't allow bulbs to freeze). After removal from the fridge, plant the bulbs immediately. Do not plant tulips in Laguna until after Thanksgiving and as late as February. They will bloom from March to April.

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