Holland in Vermont

Dutch Gardens Bulbs Banish Winter
with a Burst of Color

Our grand tulip display is replanted each year to ensure an exciting show every spring.
In December 2001, Gardener's Supply formed a partnership with Dutch Gardens, a catalog company that has been importing Dutch flower bulbs for more than 90 years. Once the papers were signed, it took us about 2 minutes to start thinking about the great spring bulb gardens we'd now be able to create here in Burlington. Imagine the fun of ordering 8,000 bulbs and designing a new garden just to show them off!

The design for our spring bulb gardens came together over the next several months.

We decided that our spring bulb garden would occupy two separate areas. Bulbs in the first area, daffodils, crocus, and other smaller bulbs, would be planted once and allowed to gradually multiply. The garden for tulips would be replanted each fall, allowing us to display new varieties and color combinations, and ensuring we'd always have first-year, top-size tulips in bloom.

Construction didn't begin until the fall of 2002. Though that summer had been unusually dry, when September rolled around and we began working on the new gardens, the rain started falling and didn't stop until it turned to snow at the end of October.

Daffodil circle
The crocus, daffodils, scilla and other smaller bulbs will be left in place to multiply over time.
The daffodils went in quickly. They were planted in a 90-foot-diameter circle beneath a ring of young maple and elm trees. That circle of trees had been planted the prior year, so the soil was stable and easy to work. About 5,000 daffodils went in, along with a couple thousand smaller bulbs, such as snowdrops and crocuses.

For the tulips we designed a formal allee: a 12-foot-wide grass path lined with 20 green ash trees. A total of 12 4-by-12-foot bulb beds mirrored one another across the path. To create 12 identical, crescent-shaped beds, a wooden template was built and permanent metal edging was installed to follow the shape of the template. Working the soil -- which was sopping wet at this point -- was difficult. As each bed was made, it was lined with hardware cloth to keep voles from devouring the bulbs during winter. In some cases, the beds were filling up with water as we positioned the bulbs.

There were many cold fingers as we covered up the last of the tulips. Ideally, newly planted bulbs have at least 3 or 4 weeks to establish roots before the ground freezes. It seemed like these tulip bulbs -- all 7,000 of them -- had minutes rather than weeks. We covered the beds with some straw for a little insulation, and also put a layer of straw on the central path, because there hadn't been time to establish any grass.

Early spring allee
Once the snow had melted, we checked the beds daily to see what might be coming up.
One great thing about bulbs is that the spring flower is already fully formed inside the bulb that you plant in the fall. This means that if you purchase large, good-quality bulbs, you are almost guaranteed to get great flowers. But one thing tulips don't like is wet soil. In Holland, they are grown on almost pure sand, enriched with composted manure. Knowing the difficult growing conditions we'd given our tulips, we tried to keep our expectations in check.

As you can see in the photographs taken last spring, the bulbs put on a great show. The late-fall planting and wet soil slowed everything down, but almost every bulb that we had planted bloomed. The overall planting plan called for 35 varieties of tulips. Most beds included a mix of early, mid- and late bloomers. Some beds were all one color, some were planted to display complementary colors (such as red, orange and yellow) and some were planted in to accentuate contrasting colors (such as purple and yellow).

In the fall of 2003 we began planting our tulip bulbs in early September. The beds were already in place and the weather was warm and dry. Because all the prior year's tulip bulbs had been removed after blooming, we simply removed the soil from each bed (putting it on a tarp), filled the bed with bulbs and replaced the soil. Two people (staff gardeners Rich and Agnes) planted about 6,000 bulbs in less than a week.

We expect a spectacular show in 2004. Crocus, scilla and chionodoxa should begin blooming toward the end of April, followed by daffodils and tulips. If you are in the Burlington area this spring, we hope you will stop by and walk through the gardens. All bulbs are marked with labels so you can identify your favorites, and you can pre-order our bulbs in the store for delivery in fall.

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