The Red Tulip



Earlier in the spring a number of tulip plants emerged and I thought about how I had never noticed tulips last year. Over the next several days I watched each and every clump of tulip foliage get munched to the ground by the local deer who frequent our garden at night. Then one day I saw a single tulip bud they had missed. It was sitting quietly right beside the front path near the top of the steps from the street. This tulip was the only one to survive to a bloom this year and it bore the weight of this responsibility with gusto. The red petals would open into a big, bright, dark-centered cup every day and then close up each night. Perhaps I have built this up in my mind but I genuinely feel this tulip has been shining bright from bud to decay for several weeks; longer than any other tulip I've ever known. 


At present the dusty blue stems of woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) dance delicately on the slightest breeze moving through the garden. The red tulip bloomed as some woodland phlox came up and into flower and for a brief moment the view from the car across the garden was a sea of bright blue with a single crimson siren. Then the native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) sent their tall slender stems up and revealed, just like the phlox, a naturalized pattern resulting from years of seeding around and spreading out, looking now like they had found their way to this garden independently and had effectively colonized this Dogwood understory. As a designer I regularly try to mimic or interpret the patterns of nature but no one does it quite like the Mother Nature herself. 


The beautiful balance of naturalized planting is unfortunately juxtaposed by a thugish stand of variegated Soloman's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum) which forms an aggressive block that threatens to encroach on everything around it. Currently under threat of invasion are Hellebores now going to seed, a small clump of Trillium I only recently discovered and some Cyclamen hederifolium.



Other noteworthy characters this spring include a small group of wood Anemone (Anemone quinqifolia) as well as spring starflower (Ipheion uniflorum) and the small but mighty checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris). The fritillary has a stunning pattern on its deep purple nodding petals. I am mesmerized by many things in the garden at present, but this Fritillary is a favorite. 


There were grape hyacinths which brought the first of the bees for the season. Now the native redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and dogwoods (Cornus florida) are blooming and a breathtaking canopy of pink and white blooms spread over the garden and signal the coming shade. There are tree peonies coming up that I planted from seed two years ago and forgot about.


April marches on, temperatures rise and remind me that heavy humid heat is on its way. But for now, the marvels of spring bring life to the landscape and the days are long and full. We make the most of the season, taking cues from our one red tulip. 

We bought a house and inherited a garden

We purchased our house in July 2016. The story of the house itself is a rather long one but the gist of it is, the house was built in 1901; by 2016 it had been left empty for some time and the fire department had plans to burn it down. This is when two couples we know who are interested in historic preservation and real estate development purchased the house, repaired the foundation to save it from a controlled burn and then sold it on to us. I refer to it as a 'fixer upper'. 



When we moved in our neighbor across the street told us to keep an eye on the garden. She told us two women who had occupied the house several years ago had cultivated an impressive landscape full of botanical treasures. At the time, we had our hands full with the house itself, it was the height of North Carolina summer and I was working in another garden four days a week. I was paying zero attention to my own garden.  

It is now mid-February not quite two years later and our garden is waking up. Ranger marks the subtle shift of early seasonal transitions by the birds. I mark these transitions with plants. The early spring garden in North Carolina is, in my opinion, the best garden. There is an inherent excitement in watching things come to life; in observing tiny pops of color emerging from the sepia toned palette of a Hillsborough winter. 


A mix of crocus and hybrid hellebore dominate at the moment but a flush of dusty blue phlox divaricata is imminent. There are some Cyclamen coum and snowdrops trying to push through the tangle of weeds that I let take over last summer when I was hot and still working in another garden and seven months pregnant. The small fragrant umbels of  Edgeworthia chrysantha (paperbush) flowers are starting to unfurl and they will soon scent the walk from the car to the house. In about a week a wave of white quince and winter honeysuckle will bloom against some large evergreens along the north side of our house.

You've got to appreciate the biological rhythm of this early spring garden; tiny plants springing up from the ground to catch the light before gigantic trees and sprawling perennials leaf out and soak up all the nutrients. It's a hopeful garden where the little guys shine bright.