Spring's signature flower

Tulips proclaim victory over winter.

I have a love/hate relationship with tulips.

This bond must have developed early in life, for I’ve seen pictures of myself as a toddler sitting in my mom’s bed of red and yellow tulips.

And, of course, as a budding kindergarten artist, I always drew a few tulips (flowers shaped like broken tea cups balancing atop slim stems) to accent my house-with-smoking-chimney-and-check-mark-birds landscape.

So I’m convinced that as long as I have understood “flower,” then I have understood “tulip.”

Ironically, my distaste for these beloved blooms grew as my love for gardening did as an adult. As a teenager, I had urged my mother to abandon her conservative yellow and red bulbs for pastels. So when I finally had my own yard, she helped me plant the apricot tulips that I’d desired for years.

They bloomed spectacularly the following spring, allowing me to bask in their unconventional beauty. After that gardening success, I planted a couple of flats of impatiens that summer, which triggered a great change in me: I’d been officially bitten by the gardening bug.

Of course, anyone who has big dreams of covering her yard with lavish beds and borders soon encounters the problem of budgeting. Wanting a grander display of tulips next year, I purchased a huge (but economical) sack of the very same red Darwin bulbs I had perpetually begged my mom to forsake.

My mom (no doubt smirking inwardly) helped me plant 50 of these bulbs one October afternoon.

By February, I’d begun making daily trips to that bed under the dogwoods, counting how many green blades had emerged. When scarcely 20 red tulips bloomed that spring, I vowed vengeance upon moles everywhere. Not only had they gobbled more than half of my red bulbs, but my apricot blooms had vanished as well. Disappointed, I still tried to enjoy the few survivors.

However, my husband became frustrated when I wouldn’t allow him to mow down their dying foliage. For weeks we hosted a minijungle in our front yard as the grass between the tulips surged with warming temperatures.

“You know, tulips just aren’t worth all of this trouble,” I finally declared. In fact, I haven’t planted a single one since then.

Over the past few years, my borders and beds have grown, although I find that they forever need to be revised or redesigned. And every January when I’m pouring over catalogs and reference books and deciding which plant could fill some vacancy, I sometimes look longingly  at all those beautiful photos of tulips – from the Apricot Beauties to the Rembrandts and even the Darwins.

I do believe that someday I will plant tulips again, although perhaps just as annuals.

No matter how I dislike that scraggly foliage or dread battling hungry moles, I surrender to this inevitable truth: No flower captures the hope, the excitement, and the beauty of spring more than the tulip.

It is a bloom born out of seemingly barren ground, which seems driven by the single purpose of proclaiming spring’s victory over winter. Better than anything else, it is spring’s signature flower.

Editor's Note: We invite you to click here to visit the Monitor's gardening site, which offers articles, essays, and blog posts on a variety of gardening topics.

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