Tulips: A 400 year love affair

Our monthly garden club speaker this week will be teaching us the fine art of watercolor painting using tulips as our subject and I was asked to construct a centerpiece of tulips for the meeting.  Tulips are in every grocery store and marketplace this time of year and just shopping for the few I need transports me back to the Netherlands and especially to a rare garden, Hortus Bulborum, devoted entirely to the conservation of historic bulb varieties.

Traveling with local friends and led by bulb growers/writers/photographers/educators (as well as friends), Brent and Becky Heath, meant that we mostly skipped the touristy side of the bulb industry and were introduced to the trade through their long connections to growers of Holland.

Hortus Bulborum in Lummen, North Holland

Hortus Bulborum is located in the small village of Limmen in the province of North Holland, where my first impression was that bicycles and horses might outnumber the few residents I saw on this chilly, misty morning.

The village of Limmen in North Holland

We began our tour with an introduction to the history of the bulb and this museum. From the original tulips growing in Central Asia and brought to Leiden by Carolus Clusius in the 1593, to the bulb thefts that probably led to the tulip rage, to the height of the tulip bubble, to the market collapse in 1637, and finally…. we learned about the collection of historical cultivars by Pieter Boschman, a local headmaster in Limmen, that led to the development of this bulb garden in the 1920s.


The garden is fairly small, just measuring about a 4-acre square but there are thousands of cultivars of historic interest, labeled and arranged alphabetically. You will find tulips, but also narcissi, fritillaries, crocus, hyacinths blooming in the spring. A visit at different times will see different bulbs in bloom.


The vast majority of the tulips that are planted each year are no longer available in the marketplace…. so it’s possible that they could vanish altogether without this living museum that preserves the gene pool for modern hybridizers.


Hortus Bulborum is managed by volunteers who deadhead the flowers before the petals drop, dig the bulbs when the foliage dies, and replant them each fall. The bulbs are rotated like vegetables and planted in a different part of this sandy, flat garden to lessen the risk of disease.

Hortus Bulborum volunteer

Hortus Bulborum

Bulb enthusiasts already love to visit this archival classroom but visitors were few on the day we were there. If you are a gardener, I would recommend adding Hortus Bulborum to your bucket list for at least one visit for the history alone…as these bulbs are not where you would look for new varieties for your garden. Bulbs that are commercially available for your garden you will find at Keukenhof Gardens, an hour away from Limmen.





Nationale Tulpanday 2014

Every now and then, a request is made to use one of my photographs and I gladly comply…especially if they’re nice enough to credit me. Yesterday a digital lifetime magazine, ScoutieGirl, used one of my photos from a trip to the Netherlands a couple of years ago. From her article I learned something new: last weekend was National Tulip Day celebrated in Amsterdam, the official kickoff of tulip season that lasts from January until the end of April.

Organized by growers, about 200,000 tulips are displayed in Dam Square in Amsterdam where visitors can browse the blooms and pick a free bouquet for their home. Last year, there were about 10,000 folks who happily tiptoed through the tulips picking their favorite colors.

A youtube video of the 2013 Nationale Tulpenday gives us a peek into the joyful event.

We were lucky enough to accompany Virginia bulb growers, Brent and Becky Heath, for a once in a lifetime adventure through public and private gardens and behind the scenes look at the operation and fields of several growers who are associated with the Heath’s business. Here are a sampling of my photos that give me a little hope that spring will eventually come to this frozen New Hampshire landscape.

Click on any photograph to enlarge.

Where’s the snow?

While the rest of the country seems to be setting high temperature records, New England is experiencing its fair share of warmer weather, too. Temperatures topped out in the upper 30’s today but not before a few snow flurries dusted the area overnight. mister gardener and I sat by the window with morning coffee watching the flakes dance and swirl against the pines. Then it ended and I was sad. I don’t want a blizzard, mind you, but bring on the snow. I love snow. I can’t wait until the skies cloud over and buckets of the white stuff fall from the heavens. I long to build a snowman. I have a yen to pelt mister gardener with  snowballs. I want to slide down our mini-hill out back. I want to catch snowflakes on my mittens.

By mid-day, our dusting had melted. The temperatures are hovering near 30˚ tonight with a warming trend in the forecast for next week. By Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary, we should be experiencing temperatures in the 40’s.  Sweater weather. With these temperatures, I might as well be working in the garden. So my concrete garden friends from Virginia were unboxed and found their special homes in the landscape today.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll plant some tulip and daffodil bulbs.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

I’m always amazed at how quickly the days seem to grow shorter at this time of year. We have been losing daylight each day since June and now up to about three minutes a day. Can’t help but notice it’s really dark when we awake and dusk comes noticeably earlier.  Fall seems to have arrived at our neck of the woods. Color is beginning to appear in leaves, stalks of corn stand brown and dry in the fields, pots of mums adorn doorsteps, morning dew lies heavy on the grass and all but six female hummingbirds have begun their southward migration.  From this day forth until the Winter Solstice in December, days grow shorter and temperatures begin to drop.

Tomorrow, Sept. 23, marks the traditional first day of fall with the arrival of the Autumn Equinox in our northern hemisphere. This is the day when the sun crosses the equator southward and the length of daylight and night are fairly close to being equal.  At the North Pole, this marks the arrival of six month of darkness and at the South Pole, the sun will reappear after six month of darkness.

The sun will rise over the horizon at different times for different observers depending on location but I’m walking to the end of the pier around 5:00 a.m. EDT to catch the sun’s first rays at 5:05 a.m. as they bend over the horizon. I will reflect on the end of a growing season and give silent thanks for success in all the garden, both edible and ornamental.  Of course, thoughts must turn toward those trees on clearance at the nursery and the purchase of some glorious daffodil bulbs I’ve admired at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

The equinox is also the day for a little fun. Because of equal gravitational force, it’s thought one can be successful at balancing an egg on end. You can certainly try, however, scientists say that gravity is not noticeably affected by the equinox. Therefore balancing an egg in the morning will be just as tedious as any other day of the year. Rats!  I’ve participated in this tradition since I was age 10, so I’ll certainly have my eggs lined up tomorrow.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Bulbs are FINALLY in the ground…

After returning from a trip to Keukenhof Gardens in Holland with Brent and Becky last May, I dreamed about seeing colorful tulips in my own gardens in 2011. Breathtaking would be an understatement to describe the Keukenhof rivers of tulips planted en masse of single colors that paralleled, twisted and merged like brilliant rainbows that had fallen to the earth.  Endless paths throughout the 80-acres of woodland park with endless variety and patterns of 7,000,000 hand planted bulbs was more than eye candy. It bedazzled.  A profusion of muscari in shades of blue coiled around and about the tulips completed the colors of the rainbow.

So I also wanted muscari… lots of muscari in shades of blues and whites and lavender planted for accent color. I wanted it around birdbaths, against the tulips, and accenting the stones around the frog pond. From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs last fall, I purchased cobalt blue muscari armeniacum and several other varieties that I had admired in Holland. And last week in a lull between snow days and icy days, I finally got the bulbs planted. It’s late in the season so I’ll let you know if they appear above ground this spring.

After muscari I planted a mass of tulip bulbs in several borders.  I massed single colors and twisted them into other colors, similar to Keukenhof’s style of planting but on a MUCH smaller scale. I have great hopes that springtime views will be gorgeous on the river in Ware Neck.  Here are some of my selections:



Most of the tulips I bought were Darwin hybrid tulips from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.  This deep red “Come-Back,” thus named because it is a reliable perennial, is a mid-spring bloomer that grows to 16″-18.” It’s great for cut flowers.

I could not pass up this Darwin hybrid “Hakuun,” pure white with a hint of green on the sepals. It hails from Japan and grows to 16″-18″ tall.

Elegant Lady

I took a chance with a few of the selections because I just could not resist them. Take a look at “Elegant Lady,” the ‘color of butter cream frosting with a pale pink overlay,’ says the wording under the picture. How could I resist such a delicious bloom even if it only blooms one season?


Then I planted a river of “Daydream” Darwin hybrids that open yellow and mature to a soft apricot orange. I’m thinking sherbet when I see these 18″-20″ blooms in the catalog. And this tulip possesses a mildly fragrant aroma.


“Marit,” a Darwin hybrid described as ‘a glowing blend of cherry red and primrose yellow with a bit of chartreuse’ was another irresistible tulip. A mid-spring bloomer, it grows 14″-18″ tall.


  • The Darwin hybrid tulip bulbs should be planted about 8″-10″ deep. This prevents the bulb from splitting up into new bulbs that are non-flowering and helps the flower to have thicker stems.
  • Remove the flower as soon as it is spent to allow energy to go into the bulb rather than seed production.
  • A low-nitrogen organic fertilizer in the spring is advised.
  • Allow the foliage to completely wither away before you remove it.
  • Avoid irrigating tulips. They like it dry.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


All I Want for Christmas….

Dear Santa, Honestly, I’ve been pretty good this year… err…except for that one time, but I hope you still have me on your Nice List.  I don’t need diamonds or pearls or designer purses this year but I have a Christmas Wish List that I hope isn’t too hefty.  It’s just a Wish List which means I don’t all have to receive all of these goodies.  One or two of these things would make me smile.

1. Gloves. I’m really, really hard on garden gloves.  In one season, I either wear a hole in a pair or I am missing the mate (the dogs?). I like those gloves best with fabric backs and rubber on the palms.  I promise to be better about not leaving them on a bench, tree limb or on the ground for the dogs to find.

2. Bulbs: Gosh, you don’t have to go far, Santa. Brent & Becky’s Bulbs are just down the road and they’re having a 50% off sale on bulbs for indoor forcing.  I’ve already planted my outdoor bulbs this year but it would be fun to have a few blooms inside this winter.  You’d better be quick though.They’re only on sale until December 21.

3. Fine Gardening Magazine: Santa, real gardeners, just like I aspire to be, get to the meat of gardening in this bimonthly journal.  Even the ads are worth reading! The English Garden is another magazine that I would pore over and read again and again and again.

4. Gardening Book: It would be fun to curl up this winter with a hot cup of tea and Ken Druse’s Planthropology. Or how about Piet Oudolf’s Designing With Plants?

5. Black and Decker cordless  18 volt leaf blower:  This lightweight rechargeable leaf blower is just the ticket for me to clean the hard surfaces around the home.  All I need is 15 minutes and I’m done.  No gasoline. No extension cord.

6. Troy-Bilt 20 volt lithium-ion battery trimmer: All my edging dreams would come true with a battery that holds a charge for one hour. The time I would save over hand edging would allow me to develop another bed.  My long-term goal: all beds, no grass.

7. For a Christmas surprise (and birthdays and anniversaries), I would love to find a truckload of compost from the facility in Yorktown!

8. Drip Irrigation: It’s hard to think about water right now with our saturated soil but the droughts will someday return and I want to be ready.

Well, that about does it for this gardener.  I’d sure like to know what other gardeners have on their Wish List for Christmas.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester