I’m going to ask you to use the power of Google to search for images of the double tulip ‘Angelique’; follow up with a few ‘species tulip’ searches… and close your browser after ‘parrot tulips.’ Once you’ve seen the incredible diversity available you’ll understand why I say there’s no excuse for the 1970’s style ‘red soldiers’ and ‘yellow sentinels,’ those boring tulips planted en masse all across parks in Canada (when cities had the budget for such extravaganzas). Yes, there was something amazing about the sudden appearance of these long stemmed clones poking up from barren soil but at the same time they did seem artificial and rigid.

So – what do we do now with our home gardens? Mix it up – plant everything you see because what may seem gaudy at the end of a bright colourful summer will be balm to your snow-blasted eyeballs come spring.

Sure, sure, you say – but WHAT ABOUT THE SQUIRRELS???

Well, yes, the squirrels have more time than you do and a much keener sense of smell but we are (usually) smarter so I recommend…

  1. Plant often: more is more, I believe the very best way to stump a squirrel is to plant a few hundred bulbs rather than 10 or 15 (if squirrels eat 5 out of 10 tulips it will be disheartening, if they eat 5 out of 50 or 100 it will not be noticed)
  2. Go deep or stay home – following the instructions on the packaging is nice but not accurate as the bulbs are packaged in Holland which has a milder climate and apparently milder squirrels. I know we all cheat a little just to get the job over with, and just who takes a measuring stick out into the garden anyway? Squirrels will only dig in loose soil and not very deep — so dig in.
  3. Get sneaky & cover your tracks; leaving a trail of papery bulb casings is a map to your buried treasure; combine those with freshly turned soil and it’s a flashing scent-beacon to those fur fiends. Tamp the soil down with your Wellies. (That prevents frost from heaving them up to the surface.) And water afterwards as it also helps to dilute the scent.
  4. Fritillaria, Alliums, Daffodils, Muscari and Eranthis are less appetizing and wonderful bulb choices if you can’t bear the thought of tulips disappearing
  5. Blood, Bone & Hen – it’s fertilizer, not voodoo – a good idea for the health of your soil overall, also rumoured to be somewhat effective at ‘cloaking’ your bulbs. Acti-sol is my favourite organic manure but there are plenty of other options.

The main problem with planting bulbs is that it occurs at a time of year when we are done with the garden and ready to curl up with a good book in front of a fire, or carve pumpkins and drink spiced cider – anything really, except planting something that is completely invisible – BUT – your patience will pay off (with compound interest!) come Spring when each fresh bloom confirms that life will again come to the garden.