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Leonard Moorehead, the Urban Gardener: Spring Forward With Tulips

Sunday, October 08, 2017

 

Dull indeed is a space without tulips. No bloom claims more attention from late April long into May. We know them as cut flowers. Yet spring emergent is a trumpet, a clarion call for new life. Tulips are there, shrug off winter with ease. Colors are bold among tulips, their waxy thick petals elegant. Favor red? You’ve found the best. Ivory white above a single strong stem your game? Got it. How about parrot bright medley? Aha! 

Are you formal? Tulips assemble in rank. Alternate colors, red and white for example, measure a geometric shape, plant reliable tulip bulbs and salute. Or does whimsy move the spirit? Scatter bulbs, give each breathing room, and presto, a happy throng. Gaze from a distance for colorful pronunciation. Approach and peer downward into the petals. A dark center and golden pistols and stamen bewitch bees and gardeners alike. 

How about shape? Succumb to wonder. Sample fleur de lies or plump rotund cups that run over the heart. Our love for tulips transcends cultures. Their universal appeal attests humanity has much more in common than not. Their native habitat is Asia Minor and the Middle Eastern highlands. Countless oriental carpets contain woven tulips. Always desirable objects, European merchants brought carpets from Istanbul long before the tulip bulbs. Once the province of exotic spices and silks, enterprising 17th century Dutch merchants brought the bulbs, as Italians had silk cocoons, back to Holland. Tulips shape and color entered the gardener’s lexicon and remains. The world is now their sphere.

Most of a tulip’s life span is as a hardy bulb. Autumn is the ideal time to plant tulips. Their cultivation is simple. Choose a sunny space. Rich loams guarantee thick lush growth. Tulips tolerate dry summers and cold wet winters. Many gardeners treat them as annuals, others discover tulips return, happy beneath permanent mulches. Cultivation is hazardous for the summer dormant bulbs. Most gardeners tend to plant a succession of warm weather plants within their domain. If accidentally uncovered, separate smaller bulb lets and replant at the same depth as found. 

 Loosen a space a little larger than the bulb, mix in bone meal and plant 5-7 inches deep, bottoms downward. Garden trowels often are inscribed with inch measures, as a rule of thumb a trowel blade depth is fine. Firm up the soil. Tulips can be low, close to the surface blooms or reach 18”. Plant lower types closer to pathways, taller into the middle of borders. 

Invite friends over for tulip views. There are early, middle and late bloom types for 5 or 6 weeks of continuous display. Deadhead blooms and leave the foliage alone. Latter, when other spring plants need the space, cut the faded foliage, don’t pull. Plant tulips each Fall and establish a resident population. Lift and divide clumps with lots of foliage and fewer blooms. Frustrate predatory squirrels and associate tulips with unpalatable members of the Narcissus family such as daffodils. 

Autumn is a fine time to create garden nursery beds. Plant tulips in deep pots and bury pot and bulbs into the nursery, pot rims level with the soil, mark with recognizable stakes, wooden paint mixers are perfect. Cover in mulch. Clear away snow and mulch and bring a pot indoors, keep moist and “force” blooms on sunny window sills. Or, remove pots and put in sunny spaces for distinctive potted plants. Keep moist throughout the blooming period, replant into the garden for another spring. 

Tulips keep well in refrigerator vegetable bins. There are bulb pots with holes for each bulb and a growing media of small pebbles. Tulips kept in the refrigerator are ready for forcing after a couple months. Teach amateur cooks the differences between onions and tulips. Tulips are a visual pleasure, not a gustatory delight. 

Floral pleasure gardens were once the province of wealthy landowners who could afford plants grown for beauty’s sake instead of survival. For many Northwestern Europeans, the tulip was first known as a decorative Oriental rug element, an abstraction. Colonists brought precious “Turkey” rugs to New England. The precious bulbs soon followed in their wake. Dour pilgrims appreciated tulips robust colors in a world short on colorful dyes. We have more colors in our lives today yet the tulips ability to delight eye persists. Don’t regard the tulip as commonplace. A garden without tulips is a species of purgatory. 

Turf has more acreage in America than agricultural land. October is an ideal time to coddle turf. Grasses grow any day the temperature rises above 45 degrees F. There is a role for turf as the ultimate ground cover within gardens. Evolved from sheep pastures, grasses were in short supply in New England for the colonists. Their first grazing animals survived upon salt marshes, the trenches dug by colonists to encourage native Spartina grass remain evident hundreds of years later. 

Grass seeds were imported from England and planted upon clearings in the dense forest lands. The early colonists often settled upon the garden lands once cultivated in corn, squashes and beans by indigenous peoples. Disease and later, warfare, decimated populations vulnerable to common but unknown European diseases. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth by mistake, they stayed for open fertile grounds left vacant by disease. When Samoset greeted John Alden in English, he was the sole survivor of the native inhabitants near Plymouth Rock. Samoset taught the English to grow “corn” after Robert Bradford’s so called “starving year” when the Pilgrims’ rations failed. Grasses were necessary for fiber, such as wool, transportation, the horse, and cattle, for leather, milk and cheese. 

The best turf grows upon good thick loam. In October, I top dress the grassy lawns between growing beds with a cover of compost and peat. A thin layer of compost over short mown grass, the mower being more common presently than sheep, replaces and adds to the organic matter within loam. Grass clippings are removed from turf, unlike the past, the turf is no longer fertilized by grazing animals’ urine and manure. Eventually, grass removes nutrients and fails. A large industry has grown up to replace the lost nutrients or adds them to soils naturally more suited to trees. Culture and industry has removed memory from turf maintenance, good pasture land requires constant attention. A thin layer of compost or loam spread over October and March turf is the way to keep grasses thick and green throughout the growing season. 

Spread dolomite limestone on the underside of recommended doses, this technique is done semi-annually. The limestone brings our naturally acidic soils closer to the near neutral soil ph suitable for the best turf growth and slowly dissolves to percolate into the grass root zone. Re-seed and water. In 7-10 days the older grass will emerge from under the compost layer. The newly sprouted grass seeds will fill vacancies inevitably left from sprawling plants, foot traffic and pests. After a few years of this practice, a thick weed free turf rewards the constant gardener. The compost cover remains beneath the new growth. Rain is absorbed into the organic matter. Despite a very dry summer in 2016, grassy lanes within the garden remained green and required weekly mowing without irrigation. 

Healthy turf is naturally resistant to opportunistic “weeds”. Dandelions fail or become rare specimen plants easily removed with a sharp edged trowel slice into their tap root. Crabgrass, another opportunist, does best upon disturbed soils, a persistent healthy turf naturally overcomes this arch nemesis of lawn purists. 

Bright green turf is the perfect groundcover for walking around the garden. Enjoy the fresh green grass as you view tulips. Time, money and labor saved from lawn services is better invested in lovely spring bulbs. Walk assured no fertilizer run off seeps from your garden into fresh waterways and ultimately, aquifers and salt water. 

Squirrels are their chief predator. 

Leonard Moorehead is a life-long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, Rhode Island. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees.

 

Related Slideshow: 20 Reasons Why Fall in New England is the Best Season - 2016

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Wearing Comfy Sweaters while visiting the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary 

Lincoln, MA 

Listen to the sounds of birds chirping, see the rabits hopping around happily and so much more when you visit the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.

You may need a little sweater but you will not regret the walk, or seeing the wildlife. 

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Grape Season at Newport Vineyards 

Newport, RI 

For wine lovers, this is one of the best times of the year because it's grape season.

There are many great Vineyards around New England but Newport Vineyards tops the list and fall is one of the best times to visit, even if you may need a sweater. 

Enjoy the wine.

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Fall Ferry Ride to Block Island 

Block Island, RI 

Start the fall off by sailing away on a ferry to Block Island for the day. 

Enjoy the beach, outdoor dining, gift shops or just the views.  

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Last Chance for Outdoor Dining at Caffe Expresso Trattoria 

Worcester, MA

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International Oktoberfest at Alex & Ani Center 

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International Oktoberfest will take pace at the Alex & Ani Center in Providence on Saturday, September 24 and 25. 

The festival will include seasonal beer, German cuisine and live music. 

One of the main events of the fall season in all of New England. 

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Leaf Peeping in The Berkshires

Berkshires, MA

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How many colors can you see?

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Holy Cross Football is Back 

Worcester, MA 

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Grab your best Holy Cross sweater and head over to Fitton Field. 

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Bragging Rights on the Line in Final Tennis Matches

Still owe someone a rematch? or maybe just a match in general.

There is still plenty of great weather left to get the match in and the winner of the match takes home bragging rights which they hold for the entire winter. 

Game on! 

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Start of Apple Picking Season at Pippen Orchards

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There are not to many better fall family activities then to spend a day picking some apples.

Be sure to make the most out of the start of the fall season when you pick Pippin Orchards apples.

Then bring the apples home to make apple pie, apple sauce, or enjoy as they are.

Happy picking! 

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Fall Lineup of Beers 

Whether it's Octoberfest from Sam Adams or a pumpkin beer from Harpoon or Newport Storm, it's time to get out to your local bar or store and pick up some of the great fall beers on tap or in stock.

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The Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston

Norton, MA 

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Defending champion Rickie Fowler will look to repeat while superstars Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day look to take his title. 

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Learning at Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth, MA

The fall season is Plimoth Plantation's busiest time of year and it is a great time to bring the family.

Visit the Wampanoag Homesite, the 17th-Century English Village, Nye Barn, Craft Center, Plimoth Bread Company, Mayflower II, and the Plimoth Grist Mill!

A great way to learn and have fun at the same time.

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Last Golf Rounds of the Season at Harbor Lights 

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Take advantage of it at the beautiful Harbor Lights golf course in Warwick. 

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Cozy Sweaters at Waterfire 

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The evenings do get a bit cooler, however, they are still some of the best nights of the season and the fires are still burning bright in Providence.

Grab your nicest, coziest sweater and head down for an evening of fun, romance and much more.  

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The New England Patriots 

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Every fall for the last 15-16 years, the New England Patriots have entered the season with a chance to win the Super Bowl, in a lot of cases, even favored to win it.

That's pretty cool and is a big reason why fall is the best season in New England. 

Although, the first four games of this season may be tricky. 

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Take a Trip up Mount Mansfield 

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Last Chances for Al Fresco Dining at Boat House Restaurant 

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The views of Mount Hope Bay are unparalleled. Enjoy some wine with a snack or three while watching the sunset.  The chef is known for a well-balanced menu of seasonal treats that uses locally sourced seafood in creative ways.

Celebrate the arrival of fall and sit outside at the Boat House Restaurant. 

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Star of Pumpkin Picking at Jaswell's Farm

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Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.

The fall season is all about pumpkins and pumpkin picking is one of the best fall activities going. 

 

PHOTO: Flickr/Glenn Fleischman

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Attend King Richard's Faire

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Dive into history at King Richard's Faire, New England's oldest and largest Renaissance Festival and most beloved annual fall event. Dress up, play games and learn alot at a faire that is a great fall event for the entire family.

The Faire starts on September 3 and goes until October 23 

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Visit Animals at the Zoo One Last Time

It's almost that time of year when the local Zoo's close up shop for the winter. Take the family to see the animals one last time.

The Zoo makes for a great fall day for the entire family.

 
 

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