Tulip season 2006 underway here in Maryland

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Tue, 14 Mar 2006 14:17:43 PST
The 2006 tulip season opened here today with Tulipa kaufmanniana. Although
I've known or grown tulips under this name for as long as any, I've never
been too sure what the original Tulipa kaufmanniana was. Books of over a
century ago already mention yellow and red variants, presumably collected
rather than hybridized in cultivation. The plant which has been sold as
Tulipa kaufmanniana during my lifetime is evidently only one clone among
many which might bear the name. During the last quarter century collections
from the wild suggest that hybridization in the wild is common (or that our
current nomenclature is much in need of revision). 

This commonly grown garden clone of Tulipa kauffmanniana - the one with
white flowers with a pinkish red smudge on the exterior of the outer tepal -
comes into bloom more quickly than any other tulip I know. You look at it
one day, and you see foliage with maybe a bud deep down among the leaves.
You look a bit later, and the bud has stretched up, but not enlarged much,
and has started to show color. Wait a bit, and the still small bud has
become greenish white with a vague pink blush and now overtops the foliage.
If the day is warm, the bud, still small, will open. The next day the open
flower will be a bit bigger, but not much. But throughout the day it will
get bigger, until it reaches its full size and color.  Each year, when I
first see the tiny flower in its early stages, I think my stocks are
becoming run down. It's a fascinating performance, and one which always
surprises me. 

Lots of other tulips also show buds, but none seems close to bloom. Last
year my tulips were hit hard by botrytis; I've got my eyes peeled for signs
of it this year. 

I hope none of you was moved to envy by my weather report from yesterday.
Yes, it was an exceptionally fine day. I sat out until late in the evening
under the pergola reading and writing in my garden diary. The warm soft air
was full of the scents of magnolias, sweet violets, new growth and the
deeply moving scent of the soil itself. But today the theme will be misery
likes company. Temperatures for the rest of the week are not predicted to go
above the mid 50s F; and powerful winds are raking the garden and making
work outside unpleasant. The good news is that the comparatively low
temperatures will preserve any flowers now in bloom; the bad news is the
possibility of overnight freezes. 

The star magnolias are in full bloom: they are a proven frost magnet. Many
herbaceous peonies are well up: flower buds on Paeonia mascula are the size
of a marble already. Lilium hansonii and its hybrids are well out of the
ground. Cardiocrinium cordatum (but not C. giganteum) has expanded leaves
up. Snowdrops and winter aconites are about over (except for Eranthis Guinea
Gold which is always late here; one of its parents, E. cilicica is also in
bloom). The early reticulate irises are taking a beating in the wind. Scilla
and  Chionodoxa are making patches of blue here and there, and garden
hyacinths should be open soon. Gladiolus byzantinus (the name is dubious) is
well up, and some Muscari already have fully formed inflorescences. Eremurus
have new foliage a foot long, and near a wall Fritillaria bucharica has
joined F. raddeana in bloom.

Alberto, if you are reading this, be glad to know that your namesake Ipheion
was sweetly scented yesterday.  

So in many cases we've already passed the point of no return. 

Bird song has increased dramatically during the last two weeks; and unlike
plants, birds seem to pay little attention to the weather. At this time of
year, rain or shine they sing. Cardinals, titmice, chickadees, song
sparrows, robins, Carolina wrens, mourning doves, red-tailed and
red-shouldered hawks all have something to say at this time of year. In the
background of all of this, woodpeckers can be heard chortling and tapping. A
pileated woodpecker let loose with its staccato whoop yesterday. 

When I walk the dog in the morning - generally before 7 A.M. - we (the dog
watches them, too) have been seeing and hearing Vs of geese in the sky. One
the other day was very lopsided: about fifteen geese on one side and maybe
fifty on the other: what an amazing sound!

It's been glorious so far.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I think I heard a toad
splashing around in the pond last night.  

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