Life in Alaska

Tulip Trouble

Written by
Olga Alvord

If you ever get a chance to travel to the Netherlands in the spring, make sure you see the magnificent Keukenhof garden with nearby tulip fields. I guarantee you will feel impressed and inspired for the rest of your life. You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate the fabulous style, whimsical design, luxurious colors, and sweet scents of the most creative park in the world. You will undoubtedly develop an interest and even fascination with his Majesty the Tulip.

It certainly happened to me. The vision of blooming tulips, millions of them, intricately arranged in spectacular flower beds, has stayed in my mind ever since. It was so vivid and beautiful that I wanted to recreate at least a portion of the Keukenhof world-famous floral marvel in my Alaskan garden. I knew that arctic winters were harsh and too long for most kinds of tulips to flourish, or even survive, but I still hoped for the best results. We had a large empty space on the northern side of the house, and I begged my husband, Chip, to let me hire landscapers and build an enormous raised bed for my future tulip sanctuary.

“Please, I know it’s going to cost a lot, but I’ve been dreaming about it for years now. That’s all I want for my future birthdays and Christmases. It might not work out, but I just have to try. Please!”

“OK, I see resistance is futile. Do what you want—there will be less grass for me to mow.”

The flower bed turned out just right for what I had in mind. It was an oversized elongated D-shaped garden, raised off the ground by about two feet and outlined in light gray rock. It was completed in time for my late August birthday and fall bulb planting season. Anchorage nurseries, home improvement stores, and particularly, Costco, had a surprisingly decent selection of bulbs, all of them imported from the Netherlands, but at a much better price than in the country of origin. I remember how unreasonably expensive flower bulbs seemed to me in the Keukenhof garden. Besides, in order to bring them to the United States, I was advised to buy a special certificate from the local department of agriculture, although no one guaranteed that the tulips would clear the US customs anyway. Adding the trouble of carrying a heavy, but delicate package of bulbs in your bag all the long way home to Alaska, it didn’t make much sense to splurge on them at all.

First, I checked out the variety, quality, and hardiness of tulips available in Anchorage garden centers. The assortment was naturally less varied than in the Netherlands, but it was still very impressive. Next, I thought of what designs and color schemes would look best in my new flower bed. Each idea was put to paper in color and compared to the rest. Finally, I decided in favor of abstract swirls and waves — white tulips in the center, progressively darker and more intense colors towards the edges. To complete the project, I had to buy an overwhelming 1200 tulip bulbs and spent the whole weekend planting them. My hands and back ached, but the vision of my garden’s spring glory helped me finish the job. As I covered the newly planted bulbs with mulch, I imagined how amazed Chip would be at the beauty of my tulip art. He would surely appreciate the effort. I also imagined how our little boy would be delighted to see the colorful patterns his mama created in flowers.

“Let’s have a tulip party for friends in spring,” I suggested. “It will be a sight to behold, trust me.”

“Great, but I wouldn’t count your tulips before they bloom,” said Chip.

All I could do at that point was wait and dream about the potential of my giant tulip canvas. In November, I brought a simple old garden bench inside the garage and painted it with tulips. My intention was to put it on a slight slope by the house, so we could all sit and admire the sight of a thousand blossoms.

Nature cooperated with my plans that year: winter was relatively mild, and abundant snow insulated the dormant tulips from frost damage. Spring, slow at first, finally arrived gradually, with a steady increase in temperature. It wasn’t long before the first tulip leaves poked out of rich soil warmed up by the sun, then more, and more…

“Looks like your tulips made it, Olga,” commented Chip, “The party is on.”

About a thousand tulips survived that winter! The foliage grew quickly, and each day the plants were visibly taller until they produced slender flower stems with tight buds.

“You better watch out for moose”, advised Chip. “I saw a cow with twin calves behind the house today. Your tulips are a tasty treat to them.”

“What!? Moose? I never thought about moose…”

I kept a diligent watch over my tulip garden, hoping to protect it from moose or any other critters. It was already possible to distinguish colors in the conspicuous tulip buds swollen with life.

“They will almost certainly open tomorrow or the day after,” I guessed.

“It’s happening, Olga. Get your camera ready,” said Chip. “Looks like it’s going to be spectacular. Let’s have people over this weekend.”

When tomorrow came, Chip woke me up earlier than usual with a steaming cup of coffee.

“I hate to be the messenger, but I have bad news for you: moose ate all your tulips last night.”

I immediately sat up with eyes wide open in disbelief.

“All of them?”

“Just about … Here, have a cup of coffee and see for yourself: only five or ten left. Moose tracks everywhere, big and small—sneaky beasts!”

Bitter disappointment flooded my mind. All that work, time, and money wasted on moose.

“Looks like I was not the only one waiting for the tulips to grow. My feast for the eyes turned into a gastronomic feast for moose. What an expensive mistake! Unforgivable too: I know we live in moose country here. That’s not your Netherlands.”

“I’m sorry, it must feel awful, Olga.” Chip tried to comfort me. “Why don’t you plant something moose don’t eat, lilacs and irises? I’ll help you dig the holes this weekend.”

“Yes, thank you, that’s a better plan, a 100% moose proof plan. I’ll never buy tulips again…”

“Never say ‘never;’ you might change your mind.”

Chip was right: as soon as the initial shock faded, my love of tulips and desire to see them grow returned. Every fall, despite constant moose trouble in the yard, I still buy some tulips, anywhere from one to three hundred bulbs, and plant them throughout the garden hoping that at least a few will make it and entrance me with their European elegance and grace.

No items found.

Tulip Trouble

Life in Alaska

Author

Olga Alvord

If you ever get a chance to travel to the Netherlands in the spring, make sure you see the magnificent Keukenhof garden with nearby tulip fields. I guarantee you will feel impressed and inspired for the rest of your life. You don’t have to be a gardener to appreciate the fabulous style, whimsical design, luxurious colors, and sweet scents of the most creative park in the world. You will undoubtedly develop an interest and even fascination with his Majesty the Tulip.

It certainly happened to me. The vision of blooming tulips, millions of them, intricately arranged in spectacular flower beds, has stayed in my mind ever since. It was so vivid and beautiful that I wanted to recreate at least a portion of the Keukenhof world-famous floral marvel in my Alaskan garden. I knew that arctic winters were harsh and too long for most kinds of tulips to flourish, or even survive, but I still hoped for the best results. We had a large empty space on the northern side of the house, and I begged my husband, Chip, to let me hire landscapers and build an enormous raised bed for my future tulip sanctuary.

“Please, I know it’s going to cost a lot, but I’ve been dreaming about it for years now. That’s all I want for my future birthdays and Christmases. It might not work out, but I just have to try. Please!”

“OK, I see resistance is futile. Do what you want—there will be less grass for me to mow.”

The flower bed turned out just right for what I had in mind. It was an oversized elongated D-shaped garden, raised off the ground by about two feet and outlined in light gray rock. It was completed in time for my late August birthday and fall bulb planting season. Anchorage nurseries, home improvement stores, and particularly, Costco, had a surprisingly decent selection of bulbs, all of them imported from the Netherlands, but at a much better price than in the country of origin. I remember how unreasonably expensive flower bulbs seemed to me in the Keukenhof garden. Besides, in order to bring them to the United States, I was advised to buy a special certificate from the local department of agriculture, although no one guaranteed that the tulips would clear the US customs anyway. Adding the trouble of carrying a heavy, but delicate package of bulbs in your bag all the long way home to Alaska, it didn’t make much sense to splurge on them at all.

First, I checked out the variety, quality, and hardiness of tulips available in Anchorage garden centers. The assortment was naturally less varied than in the Netherlands, but it was still very impressive. Next, I thought of what designs and color schemes would look best in my new flower bed. Each idea was put to paper in color and compared to the rest. Finally, I decided in favor of abstract swirls and waves — white tulips in the center, progressively darker and more intense colors towards the edges. To complete the project, I had to buy an overwhelming 1200 tulip bulbs and spent the whole weekend planting them. My hands and back ached, but the vision of my garden’s spring glory helped me finish the job. As I covered the newly planted bulbs with mulch, I imagined how amazed Chip would be at the beauty of my tulip art. He would surely appreciate the effort. I also imagined how our little boy would be delighted to see the colorful patterns his mama created in flowers.

“Let’s have a tulip party for friends in spring,” I suggested. “It will be a sight to behold, trust me.”

“Great, but I wouldn’t count your tulips before they bloom,” said Chip.

All I could do at that point was wait and dream about the potential of my giant tulip canvas. In November, I brought a simple old garden bench inside the garage and painted it with tulips. My intention was to put it on a slight slope by the house, so we could all sit and admire the sight of a thousand blossoms.

Nature cooperated with my plans that year: winter was relatively mild, and abundant snow insulated the dormant tulips from frost damage. Spring, slow at first, finally arrived gradually, with a steady increase in temperature. It wasn’t long before the first tulip leaves poked out of rich soil warmed up by the sun, then more, and more…

“Looks like your tulips made it, Olga,” commented Chip, “The party is on.”

About a thousand tulips survived that winter! The foliage grew quickly, and each day the plants were visibly taller until they produced slender flower stems with tight buds.

“You better watch out for moose”, advised Chip. “I saw a cow with twin calves behind the house today. Your tulips are a tasty treat to them.”

“What!? Moose? I never thought about moose…”

I kept a diligent watch over my tulip garden, hoping to protect it from moose or any other critters. It was already possible to distinguish colors in the conspicuous tulip buds swollen with life.

“They will almost certainly open tomorrow or the day after,” I guessed.

“It’s happening, Olga. Get your camera ready,” said Chip. “Looks like it’s going to be spectacular. Let’s have people over this weekend.”

When tomorrow came, Chip woke me up earlier than usual with a steaming cup of coffee.

“I hate to be the messenger, but I have bad news for you: moose ate all your tulips last night.”

I immediately sat up with eyes wide open in disbelief.

“All of them?”

“Just about … Here, have a cup of coffee and see for yourself: only five or ten left. Moose tracks everywhere, big and small—sneaky beasts!”

Bitter disappointment flooded my mind. All that work, time, and money wasted on moose.

“Looks like I was not the only one waiting for the tulips to grow. My feast for the eyes turned into a gastronomic feast for moose. What an expensive mistake! Unforgivable too: I know we live in moose country here. That’s not your Netherlands.”

“I’m sorry, it must feel awful, Olga.” Chip tried to comfort me. “Why don’t you plant something moose don’t eat, lilacs and irises? I’ll help you dig the holes this weekend.”

“Yes, thank you, that’s a better plan, a 100% moose proof plan. I’ll never buy tulips again…”

“Never say ‘never;’ you might change your mind.”

Chip was right: as soon as the initial shock faded, my love of tulips and desire to see them grow returned. Every fall, despite constant moose trouble in the yard, I still buy some tulips, anywhere from one to three hundred bulbs, and plant them throughout the garden hoping that at least a few will make it and entrance me with their European elegance and grace.

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