Invasion of the Tulips

Winter is a bitter pill, but tulips provide a vibrant remedy. Just ask Mark Egener, who covered his Bedford Hills property with 30,000 of them.

It doesn’t matter what sort of landscape one favors at other times of year—tulips take spring by storm. Other seasons may use discretion and muted to best advantage, but hushed simply has no place in the vernal equinox. And tulips do such an efficient job of breaking winter’s monotony, swarming spring in suffused color. If vibrancy is what’s needed to break out of the bitter season’s shackles, then tulips gallop to the rescue with a truly pulsating palette.

Just ask Mark Egener, an investment advisor who went bullish about the lively flowers. Actually, he was in the midst of renovating his Bedford Hills landscape when tulips first skyrocketed on his radar. His gardener made the initial recommendation; Jan Johnsen of Johnsen Landscapes & Pools in Bedford was knee-deep in renovating Egener’s six-acre landscape when she needed a space holder to step in for spring. Tulips seemed so apropos.

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That’s when Egener went on a color rampage. What Johnsen started, he invested in with dividends. Thirty thousand bulbs later, not only did he have masses of tulips romping wherever a bulb could be buried, but he had a blossoming rainbow of sunny shades. Plus, the blooming spree encompassed the complete span of early, mid-season, and late bloomers—“the three cycles,” is how Egener describes the progression. To achieve the full gamut, he went for all heights in his inventory: precocious types tend to be squat while the late bloomers are long-legged. From the early Emperor, Kaufmanniana, and Greigii tulips to the mid-season Darwin and Triumph types, and finally followed by a last hurrah of lily-flowering tulips, Viridiflora, and other latecomers, it’s possible to hedge all your bets tulip-wise and profit from the spectacle.

Of course, tulip futures tend to dwindle with time, so it’s wise to search out perennializers and let the plants slip naturally into dormancy rather than cutting back the yellowing leaves. But that’s why Johnsen wisely pairs tulips with annuals and perennials that pick up the beat while the tulips bow out. And she begins the show with daffodils.

Admittedly, Egener became bulb ballistic. But he’s a “go for the gold” sort of guy, “so I went a little crazy,” he confesses. Once spring arrived, there was no looking back: the homeowner was hooked. Tulips set the pace so inimitably that the following year, he went for a further infusion and added 6,000 more to his ranks. Plus, down the road, he’s planning a “same time next year” affair as far as tulips are concerned.

Egener certainly wasn’t an old hand at horticulture when tulips stampeded into his life. True, he’d always harbored an affinity for flowers. But when he lived in an apartment on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, there was scant opportunity for botanical dalliances. That changed when he bought the six-acre Bedford Hills property in 2002 and, after two years of intensive construction, he was ready to move in. That’s when he turned his attention to the landscape, gardening being one of the goals that lured him into Westchester County in the first place.

Of course, there are other elements of spring that make the season a standout. The tulips are fabulous, for sure, but what really makes them pop is the big picture. We’re talking synchronized forsythia and fruit blooms, in combination with tulips, redbuds, magnolias, flowering pears, crabapples, cherries, and plums, all performing full-throttle to dapple the overhead with simpatico hues. Betwixt and between the bulbs, Johnsen scattered the beds with Spirea “Goldmound,” knowing that it would explode in spring “with the brightest yellow imaginable, and then calm down for summer.” All told, when you add in the daffodils that happen beforehand, the hyacinths that intermingle, and the muscari that serve as chasers to the tulips, Egener has nearly two months of eye candy before the garden proper really gears up. And a deer fence is the secret ingredient that keeps the magic from slipping into a vanishing act.

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Granted, it required some synchronization and savvy. For sure, it entailed several autumn weeks of bulb planting. But the investment paid back. “It looks like fireworks,” is how Egener sums up the gala festivities. And what better fanfare for a season than to jump-start spring with a bang?


Tovah Martin is the author of numerous gardening books, the most recent being The New Terrarium, published in February by Clarkson Potter. She lectures often and is a frequent guest on the PBS television series, Cultivating Life, for which she served as an editorial producer.

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