Late last fall the Massachusetts Horticulture Society (MHS) team made the decision that its 36-acre spread at Elm Bank Reservation simply must have more early-spring color. Although the calendar noted that the gardens would open for the season on April 1, Karen Daubmann, director of Garden and Programs at the 194 year-old organization, wanted to greet the public with more than the usual flowering trees and shrubs. “When we’re open for the season I want there to be a ton of things for people to see,” she said. “So that’s why we did the tulips.”
50,000 of of the harbingers of spring were planted in the Trial Garden beds last fall, bringing April color to Elm Bank like never before. Welcome to the first-ever Tulip Mania, happening through the end of this week, maybe into the weekend. You know how it is with gardens.
With the staggered bloom time of many thousands of tulips, the always-popular area centered with a Hartley Victorian Greenhouse has officially woken up early from its long winter’s nap. Home to Mass Hort’s yearly test plots of new and unreleased varieties of annuals and perennials, the elongated beds of the Trial Garden are typically planted out in May and peak in late-summer.
The decision to get going earlier and go big while doing it was one of those last-minute scrambles that turned out incredibly well. First off, Mass Hort had to get in line behind the bulb-buying competition—places like big botanic gardens and golf courses start ordering their tulip bulbs in June. Mass Hort didn’t place their order until late October. Three vendors came through for them—Van Engelen; Brent and Becky; and A.D.R. All the bulbs come from Holland. Although the Mass Hort team wasn’t able to pore over catalogs and pick the varieties of their dreams (when you order bulbs in October, you get what you get and you don’t get upset), it’s hard to mess up with tulips. Will they be bright and colorful when planted en masse? The results say yes. That’s all that matters.
For those who think spring-blooming bulbs must be planted on a gorgeous day in early fall or never, take heart. Mass Hort has really tested the limits in the Test Garden, and the early data is very heartening for all gardening procrastinators. Looks like we can dig in the dirt right into the holiday season.
“We planted them pretty late in November and early December,” Daubmann said. “Like, end of the line. We had staff out here and volunteers. Luckily we had a pretty mild fall.”
The planting process was, shall we say, very good exercise. Gardeners got down on their hands and knees over a two-week period, tucked in the bulbs with encouraging words, and hoped for the best. Next year—and yes, Mass Hort is all in on Tulip Mania for next year—the right tool for the job is coming to the rescue. They’ve just purchased a new tractor-drawn bulb planter. That should save a few backs and knees.
Meanwhile, Mass Hort is already looking toward what’s next. The green houses are crammed with plants itching to take their rightful place in the Test Garden. They’ll get their turn. As the tulip blooms are spent, the staff pulls up the bulbs and bags them up for sale. “They won’t all come back next year,” Daubmann concedes, “but I think people like the bargain, and the thought, and the hope, which is what horticultural is all about—hope.”
If you hope to go to Tulip Mania, the event takes place at least until Friday of this week. Hours are 10am-6pm. It’s possible there will still be enough of a show for Saturday and Sunday, but check the Mass Hort website first.
Reserving admission tickets would be a good idea because they limit the number of guests who can tour Tulip Mania at any one time. You can buy tickets at the gate if attendance is light at the time you show up. Included with paid admission is a bunch of 5 fresh-cut tulips. Admission fee: $10 for adults. Free for youth 12 and under. Free for Mass Hort members.
EVENT: Tulip Mania
DATES: At least through Friday, April 28. Maybe over the weekend if the tulips are still in bloom.
HOURS: 10am-6pm for Tulip Mania specifically (you can tour the rest of the gardens as well)
LOCATION: The Gardens at Elm Bank, 900 Washington St., Wellesley
VARIETIES PLANTED: Sunny Prince; Hermitage; Golden Emperor; White Emperor; Christmas Dream; Candy Prince; Negrita; Pretty Princess; and more
More Mass Hort news
This year Mass Hort received $600k from the State to stabilize the Manor House. Although not nearly enough to start renovations, this exciting turn of events will allow MHS to stabilize the building, remove asbestos, keep it watertight, and start working on the exterior.
Join MHS as they open up the French doors on the terrace, giving you a peek into the living room area. Don’t miss this opportunity to support the future of the Manor House and enjoy a lovely spring evening in the Garden.
While MHS can’t give tours just yet, you’ll get to enjoy a look inside and they’ve invited architectural aficionado Matthew Dickey, creator of the popular Instagram account @streetscapecurator, to talk briefly about the Manor’s history and its designers, Carrere and Hastings.
Enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks in the Italianate Garden (one complimentary drink with ticket and a cash/card bar). Tickets here
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