Clear Lake area resident tiptoes through the tulips to understand how they thrive on the Texas Coast
Margaret Cherry ought to know a thing or two about tulips. A few months ago, she planted 1,600 bulbs.
Cherry keeps meticulous records about tulips on spread sheets, recording when certain plants sprout, how long they take to finish and their size. Then, she maintains them in her garden to observe how long they last.
“I have it down to a science,” said Cherry, a Clear Lake area resident. “I walk my yard every day and look to see what needs to be done.”
She has the sort of job we all envy — doing what she loves and getting paid for it.
Since 2003, Cherry has worked for Dallas-based company Abbott-IPCO, which serves the horticulture industry as an international source of caladium bulbs, imported Holland bulbs, perennials and other products for the greenhouse industry, garden centers and landscapers.
“My job gives me a lot of personal satisfaction,” she said. “I would definitely be doing this even if I wasn’t doing it professionally.”
Cherry is a Texas Master Certified Nursery Professional and has worked in a retail nursery, grown edible flowers for a produce broker and spent many years in commercial landscaping as a color specialist. She also apprenticed under the watchful eyes of both sets of grandparents, who grew vegetables and flowers. Cherry planted her own garden of sweet alyssum when she was 6 years old.
Abbott-IPCO gets its bulbs from Holland and does its research at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Because Dallas is in a colder zone than coastal Texas, the company relies on Cherry’s meticulous notes to determine what will do well in our warmer coastal climate.
“There are hundreds of thousands of varieties of tulips,” she said. “They get shipped to me 100 per variety, and since I received 16 varieties, there will hopefully be 1,600 tulips blooming.”
Tulips are the harbinger of spring, Cherry said. The bulbs are planted in circles, very close together, with each circle containing 100 tulips. They’ll grow in height from 14 inches to 2 feet, and bloom in vibrant colors. Cherry uses mostly organic fertilizers and compost. She’s been improving the soil for so long, she generally doesn’t have to add more. When she changes out the beds, she cultivates them well.
“I usually plant the week between Christmas and New Year’s,” Cherry said. “Our warehouse is a giant cooler, so the bulbs are sent to me totally pre-chilled and ready to go in the ground. UPS drops them off in the front yard, and I plant 300 to 400 the first day and more the next day.”
Some of the varieties — triumph, Darwin hybrid and single late — cause neighbors to stop and stare. Last year, Cherry tried a variety called bright parrot that was so exotic and outstanding, she grew it again this year.
“It has a huge, glossy red color with a jagged yellow border and opens up very flat,” she said. “The color ranges are vast, with the queen of the night being almost black.”
Not all tulips have the traditional shape. The lily flower tulip has long, spiky petals. And because tulips are mainly beloved because of their traditional shape and striking colors, no one seems to care about how they smell.
“They have an odd fragrance,” Cherry said. “A bit citrusy and tangy, but they are not grown for fragrance.”
But the colors of tulips are striking.
“We had a very hard freeze that was really harsh,” Cherry said. “My entire neighborhood was brown. So, when the tulips started to come up, several neighbors would walk by staring at the tulips because it was the only thing in the entire neighborhood that had a giant pop of color.”