And Now for Something Completely Different: Tulip Tossing!
Jan 4, 2021
Nothing like a mass of tulips in bloom in the spring. Above, scattering the tulips as if they were just “sneezed” into the air. Where they land is where they’re planted, creating a natural, random look.
By Katie Stannard Katie writes our “Science Saturday” social media posts each weekend. This story is part of that series.
Not bouquets, but bulbs.
In an unprecedented move as part of an unprecedented year, Doug Conley, Matthaei-Nichols garden coordinator, announced plans last fall to plant 2,000 tulips in Matthaei’s Gateway Garden. Though the garden’s theme is usually “new world plants,” that is, ornamental plants originally native to South, Central, and North America, Conley authorized a special exception. He remarked, “It’s 2020, so we will take a one-time break from this tradition.”
Conley scoured area nursery centers and big box stores for end of the season deals, “misfits,” and left-behinds. As tulip bulbs do better when planted in cooler soils later in the fall, seven staff members helped plant them over the last two weeks in a style known as the “sneeze method.” This rather informal strategy involved scooping up handfuls of bulbs, then tossing them onto the prepared beds, akin to the “achoo” of sneezing!
Wherever tulips landed, staff were instructed to dig them in, pointy side up–after distancing a few that were too close together. To protect these delicious tulips from becoming breakfast, lunch, and dinner for ever-aggressive squirrels and chipmunks, garden beds were covered with netting which was then anchored in place.
Though this planting procedure may seem haphazard, the intended effect is to appear unevenly spaced and hence more naturalistic looking when bloom time arrives in the spring.
Interestingly, thanks to the concept of gravitropism, even bulbs planted sideways or upside down will find their way. Because of gravitropism (or the turning toward or away from gravitational pull), plant shoots go up (negative gravitropism, because they’re growing against the pull) and roots go down (positive gravitropism). Both grow into optimal environments for their distinct functions: shoots turn toward the sun for photosynthesis, and roots reach into soil for stability and nutrients.
So what will the tulip color scheme look like? It’s a surprise! Only Conley knows the plan and he’s not telling. He mused, “This kind of willy-nilly design may be crazy but I hope you can find this anticipation as delightful as ‘sugar plums dancing in your head!’”
We can’t wait to see what the garden will look like in the spring!