Tulipa

In winter rains when last we saw those workers in straw – microorganisms, earthworms, shiny-black and iridescent-green beetles, many spiders, and a mouse or two looking for bedding – they were focused on transforming straw and compost berms into rich soil for garden beds.

You can plant a sheet-mulched bed right away, either by topping with a layer of compost or soil and sowing a cover crop, or by digging holes to fill with a little potting soil and a plant. I resisted, but on an autumn visit I planted species tulips in the northwest bed.

The earliest tulips to bloom, species tulips are hardy relatives of wild tulips found on rocky shores throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia, arriving in Europe in the 16th century. I chose Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Shakespeare’ and mixed bag of T. Greigii.

Species tulips are champs. Short and sturdy, brave and tireless, neither wind nor rain nor surrounding straw keeps them from beauty and color. About the time even my good-natured husband, who rarely asks about such things, inquired if we’d always have a yard full of straw, tulip leaves, pointed ends held wide, emerged.

Plump buds rose on thick stems, followed by dazzling flame-orange and red tulips. They close tight in rain and wind, but open wide to pollinators in sun, powered it seems by some strong stretching muscle.

That first spring Frances lounged on the straw, sun on her flank, in the midst of a blaze of colorful tulips. And five years on, in a spring rainstorm, descendants of the first tulips (true to their reputation for persistence and ruggedness) color the courtyard.

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