After admiring the tulip displays at the New York Botanical Garden, Dale Skaggs, director of horticulture for the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, decided to celebrate spring by planting 10,000 tulips in 2010. Then things got a little crazy.
"One thing led to another, and our vision grew," Skaggs says. Indeed. Called "20,000 Tulips," the Dixon's most ambitious horticulture exhibition opens this weekend, showcasing thousands of hybrid tulips plus 16 kinds of diminutive natives called sylvestris.
"Sylvestris means of the woods," Skaggs explains. "Some of these wild tulips perennialize, so we'll be watching closely to see if that happens here."
More typically, tulips don't naturalize in the Mid-South because of humidity and mild winters, so they need replanting every year. For the Dixon exhibition, gardeners started digging beds in late November. They planted 20,000 tulip bulbs with charming names like Lady Jane and Perestroyka for the next four weeks, following design directions from Dixon staffers Greg Francis, Manjula Carter, and Jesse Howley. They also threw in 7,000 other bulbs, such as crocus and foxtail lily.
"They worked with color and shape and whether the bulbs are early-, mid-, or late-bloomers," says Skaggs, who hopes for peak blooms this weekend when the opening of "20,000 Tulips" includes events for children and adults. On Saturday, March 27th, there's a bulb workshop and Easter egg hunt at 10:30 a.m. and balloon art for kids at 2 p.m. On Sunday afternoon, Brent Heath of Brent & Becky's Bulbs, an exhibit sponsor, lectures on the acclaimed Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam, one of the most spectacular spring gardens in the world.
If you can't make the weekend activities, don't wait too long to explore the exhibition on your own. Tulip blooms are short-lived and don't last past April. Also, be sure to take a stroll through the Dixon's woodland gardens, where you can dial up the museum's new cell phone tour or sit peacefully amid the drifts of daffodils and Lenten roses.