By Stephanie Cavanaugh
I’M HOBBLING around Costco, a few days before the official advent of fall, with a stone in my sandal looking for signs of spring. Specifically, tulip bulbs.
Halfway through the giant store, I am assaulted by Christmas. Giant Santas, reindeer, lights! Wrapping paper and ribbons. Out of the corner of my eye I spy Halloween, a rack of costumes. Princesses and Spiderpersons—they don’t categorize by sex (or presumed sex) anymore. Anyone can be a princess!
There are bushels of candy. Snickers and Mars Bars, Mounds and Blow Pops. No Tootsie Roll Pops, which have become a bit of an addiction. Very hard to find, these.
No sign at all of Thanksgiving.
At last, I find a meager half rack of bulbs, the leavings. Daffs, fritillaria, allium, hyacinth, and tulips, lots of tulips. They’ve been stocked since August, but I just couldn’t look at them so early. It’s like trying on bathing suits in January, even though I know the pickings will be lean (unlike my girth) when Memorial Day comes around.
One bag stops me in a dormant hot flash. Hottest of hot pink flowers softly brushed up the sides with a blush of purple. Mystic Van Eijk, they’re called. Fifty bulbs for $14.99.
I cannot pass them by.
Another bag, a mix of Purple Lady Triumph Tulips and a fat and frilly double tulip called Foxtrot. The purple is a shade too funereal, even for me, but the pinks? Mmmm. $14.99 for 50. Sold.
They’re all midspring bloomers too, which is what I look for (on the bag). Opening in early April, just as the Kwanzan cherry bursts into pink blossom; add some butterflies and dancing mice and it’s a Disney cartoon. Timing is critical. I want them done by the end of the month to make way for summer blooms and tropical foliage.
This visit was supposed to be purely for investigative reporting (and some ribs), not a bulb-buying trip, but who could resist such prices? Lady Astor in Laura Ashley, skipping about in the morning dew gathering a bouquet for the library, I ain’t.
There are many fine growers out there, the catalogues began arriving in July, when I have absolutely no interest in looking at them. Van Engelen, John Scheepers, White Flower Farm. They’ve been gathering dust on the hall table. The years flick past fast enough; I have no desire to rush the seasons. Others don’t seem to mind: Plenty of bulbs are already sold out.
For the last few years I’ve been getting bulbs from Colorblends, a justifiably praised company that stocks a well-priced selection of single-colored flowers and unexpected combinations, such as Jacques and Jill, which combines mauve-pink and orange tulips in a riotous blast. Pick a collection and Colorblends does all the work for you, except planting.
The result? You look genius. Like you know your way around bulbs, which is nice, particularly when you write a gardening column that often features examples of your own bad judgment and minor disasters.
Tulips are the only bulbs I’m buying this year. Allium, which I adore, are a perpetual flop. The scent of hyacinth makes me sneeze. And daffodils? Like mums, in this semi-tropical climate they’re five-day wonders (if that).
But tulips? Having the taste of a 7-year-old, as long as mine are some shade of pink and purple, I’m happy.
Though I keep thinking of those orange fritillaria at Costco, how they’d toss a little acid into all that sweetness . . . hmmmm.