From Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul

The Tulip Tradition

You can make your world so much larger simply by acknowledging everyone else’s.

Marie Laskas

It’s very difficult to grow tulips in Southern California. But each year for nineteen years, Rae Viney planted 800 bulbs in her front yard. As children, we’d go by the house, and Mrs. Viney would hobble out and wave her cane at us.

“Come see the tulips!” she’d call cheerfully, and we’d find ourselves standing in a sea of colors, gaping at wave on wave of those rare blooms.

Then, just before my husband and I moved in across the street, Mrs. Viney died. So did all her tulips. Although they are technically perennials, tulips rot quickly in our warm climate. It was only Mrs. Viney’s persistence that had kept her colorful spring tradition alive year after year.

Fortunately, the house was bought by Helen and Jack Crawford. Helen, an avid gardener, decided to continue the tradition, but on an even grander scale.

On the day after Thanksgiving, 1973, we looked out our dining-room windows and saw Helen, Jack and their two children digging in the garden. With no idea of what to expect, our family trooped across to help.

My husband and I were shown how to “double-dig,” removing the topsoil before turning over and fertilizing the ground underneath. Our young son Greg learned to set the bulbs point-up, four inches apart, and how to step without treading on them. Only someone with small feet could plant in the corners between the hedges, so Greg was made to feel his contribution was essential. When we began to tire, Helen brought out tea and cookies for everyone, and we went back to work willingly.

After four hours, 2,400 tulip bulbs were in the ground. Invigorated by the good company and a task well done, we promised we’d be back to plant the next year.

In the spring, we were stunned by the overwhelming beauty of our labors. Those 2,400 tall, fat tulips blossomed in every color imaginable.

They filled the large front garden, framed by flowering dogwood and other spring flowers. Cars came from miles around to drive slowly past the incredible sight. Adults roamed up and down the brick path in awe, and children in their Easter best came to pose for photos among the blooms.

At the 1974 planting, our new daughter Paula joined us in her baby stroller. Eight years later, baby Matt attended his first planting, watching everything from his jump chair. We’ve participated every year since.

We bring our friends, our children bring their friends, and many neighbors turn out. The Friday after Thanksgiving has become a neighborhood tradition, with plenty of work for adults and children of all ages.

A few autumns ago, Greg was out of college and working in London. He called long-distance from England to apologize for missing planting day. After all, he’d been part of it from the start. With that one exception, no one in our family has missed a planting day in twenty-six years. Through babies, college, marriage, travel and life, no matter how widely we are scattered, we have a bond with that November Friday.

Yes, it’s about tulips and the community, but it’s really about establishing family traditions. Life moves so fast. Often, we get cut off from the rituals that were meaningful to our ancestors, so we must invent our own. Years ago, we went across the street just to lend a hand.

We returned home far richer than we ever realized.

Doris Meyer

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