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October 7, 2009 > Pat Kite's Garden: A tale of tulips

Pat Kite's Garden: A tale of tulips

By Pat Kite

I started to tell a charming story about tulips. Instead I recalled the tale of the Dutch Hunger Winter. Between October 1944 and May 1945, the Nazi Army occupying the Netherlands put a retaliation blockade on all food transport to the Western Netherlands. Food was already scarce. Now it became scarcer or even non-existent. So, among the remotely edible, people ate tulip bulbs to stave off starvation. "You had to peel them first, and then you sliced them like onions," states author Dien van der Burgh in a Radio Netherlands article. "The centre had to be taken out, because that was poisonous. When cooked, it was sort of a glassy substance you could mash..." Ms. Van der Burgh recalls her family eating their way through a lot of little red tulips. During the famine, 18,000 people died.

Red tulips, yellow, pink, burgundy, white, lilac, purple, single flower, peony flowered double, bicolor and fringed; you'll find tulip bulbs for sale in most garden shops now. Recommended planting time is October. If you want to see super tulip pictures, I just received a catalogue from White Flower Farm at Internet www.whiteflowerfarm.com.

In our clay soil, tulip growing sometimes works, sometimes is iffy. They do prefer sun and sandy soil. But you can create your own soil mix in a pot, putting three or so bulbs per pot for prime display. Sunset Garden Book says to add low-nitrogen granular fertilizer before planting. Place tulip bulbs about 5 inches deep. Water once after planting and then just a tad until leaves emerge, then regular watering. Bloom time is March to May, depending on tulip type. After flowering, potted tulip bulbs can be discarded, or placed in the regular garden with amended soil to hopefully recuperate for next year.

But I must include a charming story. A folktale from Devon, England tells how pixies used tulips as cradles for their babies. A woman, into her garden one evening, saw the tiny babies asleep. She was so delighted, she planted even more tulips. The fairies were so pleased they rewarded the woman by giving bright colors and a sweet aroma to her tulips. The woman had luck and happiness as long as she lived. But when she died, a man, with no affection for a pretty garden, destroyed the tulips, planting practical vegetables instead. The fairies didn't like that at all. So every night after dark, they tromped on the vegetables, so that nothing thrived for years. But on the good woman's grave was always a cluster of beautiful tulips, long blooming, bright color and sweet smelling. And yes, there are some fragrant tulips today, too.

A garden is not only sanctuary from a sometimes-difficult world it is sanctuary to a myriad of bees, butterflies, insects of a thousand colors and shapes, and birds. It is also a history lesson and often tells a tale to make a pretty day even prettier.

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