54. Not Just Another Tulip Story

I guess you would think that I had nothing better to do while working in that nice office in Falls Church, VA. but look out the window. That woodpecker and I sparred for a few weeks it’s true, but that was the only interesting thing going on until the following spring.

Like most office parks, the one where I worked spent obscene amounts of money on landscaping. The company colors were red and white, so every season had plants and flowers that were various combinations of those colors. In the spring, there were red and white tulips that were arranged to spell out the company initials. Those were replaced by red and white wax begonias. You get the picture. It seemed that the landscaping crews were always out there doing something to control nature. Truthfully, I would have been just as happy with natural woods surrounding the building, but no one was going to ask a lowly section manager about how to project a corporate image.

We had a beautiful spring that year. The tulips were glorious. After a few weeks, the landscaping truck came along, pulled every tulip, and tossed in the back of the truck. The truck would disappear and a new truck would appear with thousands of wax begonias for the summer. This process would take a couple of weeks and it really was interesting to watch how these strips of land were transformed.

While the tulips were being pulled and tossed, I happened to be walking the grounds during lunch and I stopped to ask one of the landscape workers what they were doing with all those tulips that they just pulled. “Oh, we take them down the street and toss them on a heap and let them decompose,” he said. “Seriously, you just throw them away?” “Yep.” “Do you think anyone would mind if I went down there and got some of them?” “No, help yourself, they’re only going to rot in a few weeks anyway.”

The next day I came to work with a few of those plastic grocery bags that were so common back then. You remember; paper or plastic? Then at lunch, I went on the hunt for this mysterious heap of tulips. About 200 yards away I found a 20-foot mound of freshly pulled tulips. And so, armed with my plastic bags and my trusty pocketknife, I began the harvest. I quickly cut the green tops off each bulb cluster and placed them in a bag. Before long I had filled 4 plastic bags with bulbs and I was off to save my good fortune in the trunk of my car.

Of course, I had been observed and a couple of people were wondering what I was doing. There was no concern about it; it was just a little unusual to see someone in a suit walking around the tulip trash heap. But that was me, and over time, they grew to expect the unexpected from me.

I couldn’t wait to get home and show everyone what I had found. We hadn’t lived in our house for very long and some tulips would really brighten up the place. Red and white probably wouldn’t have been the colors I would have chosen, but that was OK. Also, when I looked at a bulb I didn’t know what color it was going to be so planting in patterns was not going to work.

We had several plastic plant carriers leftover from previous trips to nurseries and so I went about the labor-intensive task of separating, cleaning, and placing the selected bulbs on the drying racks. And there was little Sarah, helping and asking, helping and asking. It became clear why these tulips were thrown away as the labor costs to save them would be far greater than just buying new ones. But this was a ‘project’ of mine and I was going to see it through just for the experience of it, if for nothing else.  Increasingly though, it was becoming a project of ‘ours’ with little Sarah wanting to help at each step.

When we was finished, I had about 900 tulips. That was a few more than I had anticipated. I had not remembered that tulips have a tendency to ‘naturalize.’ But that was fine with me. The next spring was going to be pretty cool. After all, I had this ‘tulip’ thing in my blood, right? See My Mother’s Birthday for the back-story.

I dried my tulips all summer and then in September, I decided on where my tulips would be planted. I dug a 60 foot trench, one foot deep, and one foot wide. Our development used to be farmland so this was pretty good dirt. I planted 300 at 12 inches deep, 300 at 9 inches deep, and 300 at 6 inches deep. Again, there was little Sarah placing one tulip at a time and looking for approval of the job that she did. This planting arrangement would give us a less dense crop, but we would have bright tulips for nearly 6 weeks, that is, hopefully.

The digging, planting, and fertilizing all done, there was nothing left to do but wait. Then the ‘tulip watch’ began the following April. As expected, did we ever have tulips. Then we had more tulips. Then we had tulips again. It became the story of the neighborhood as to how we managed to have tulips for so long.  And every time someone would ask about them, little Sarah would stand a little straighter and beam a little prouder for the job that she did on these tulips.

But that was the last year for the tulips. These were cheap “one-year” tulips. They weren’t meant to naturalize properly and last for years. We got our year of tulips only because of the labor-intensive effort involved. The experiment had been fun and the results were very good. But most of all, it was a chance to involved Sarah in a project that she found interesting. And while I did get fewer and fewer tulips coming up for the next few years, eventually they died away. I wasn’t going to dig up 900 tulips every year. There were children’s games to play and new experiences to find.

Please feel free to share this post on your favorite social media below.  Thanks.

About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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30 Responses to 54. Not Just Another Tulip Story

  1. Lovely piece. I only wish you had included a photo of this one.


  2. I think my heart stopped for a minute at the thought of tulips being pulled up and thrown away. What a waste! I’m glad you saved some and enjoyed their beauty for another year.


  3. dtoft says:

    JT – Nice story and well written. And thanks for the “Like” on my blog. I’m humbled that an accomplished writer would take the time. Blessings – David


  4. Reading your stories always jogs my memories of different but related stories from my past. Thanks for sharing.


  5. jatwood4 says:

    Hi, J.T. This is a lovely story — the lesson, that good things are worth some hard work, and that “hard to do” can be a happy phrase, not the bad news I have always dreaded. Very compelling.


  6. I didn’t know that corporate America (I assume) had developed methods of built in obsolescence for tulips.


  7. B C Menzi says:

    Wonderful tale… Your dedication to try and save those helpless tulips is commendable. It’s a shame they didn’t propagate as expected. Still, I never knew you could affect their bloom’s arrival by depth you plant them. Silly me! Not much of a gardener. Still, I got the bug this year, so let’s hope I keep watering it in mind ; )


  8. Just shows what a bit of effort can achieve even if it was short-lived. I was horrified to hear that the beautiful wild flower areas we see planted by councils on the roadside these days are sprayed by weed killer and redone in the spring for the same reason. Must have been a joy though:-)


    • J T Weaver says:

      Yes, I did enjoy it. I especially liked the comments and strange looks from people that thought what I was doing was dumb. And most of all I liked my satisfied little grin when I had nearly 900 tulips up in full color. It was a good thing to do.


  9. Did you take pictures? I know I shouldn’t ask, but…


    • J T Weaver says:

      No, I know I should have. It’s one of the many mistakes I’ve made along the way. I never seemed to recognize those time when photographic evidence was a must. I always tell my kids to take lots of pictures because they’ll want them later.


  10. The first thing I thought of was your mother’s garden, and then the idea of Karmic debts… 🙂


  11. Mags Corner says:

    It must have been very colorful and beautiful at your place that year. Well, worth the effort you put into getting the tulip bulbs ready for planting and planting them. Wish I could have seen them.


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