Gardening expert spins a tale of tulips

He also offers tips on defeating pesky bulb-nabbing squirrels

It may only be mid-October, but local gardeners are already thinking ahead to spring.

Members of the Leaside Garden Society who attended the final speaker engagement of the year on Oct. 13 were invited to learn about tulips and some of the techniques involved in prepping the garden for spring.

Guest speaker Michael Erdman spoke about the history and significance of tulips and how species found in countries across Europe and Northern Africa have resulted in a wide variety of qualities and appearances.

In cultivation, representations of tulips have been found in artwork in Egypt and carpets in Turkey, but it wasn’t until the Ottoman wars that many European colonies began expeditions in search of new items to bring back to their wealthy masters.

“A lot of our species were discovered in the remote areas of Turkestan in the late 1800s,” Erdman said at the meeting, which was held at the Leaside library. “But of course it was the Brits who became fascinated with everything floral, leading to the notion of flower shows.”

From ‘single early’ to ‘late season’ and the ‘Darwin hybrids’ that were grown as a result of crossbreeding, “they had to classify them instead of just referring to them as big ones and little ones, or yellow ones and pink ones,” he explained. “So they created 15 divisions which we now use to display tulips today.”

Erdman became interested in gardening after following in the footsteps of his late grandfathers. A researcher by trade, he learned about perennials, roses and shrubs and quickly found that he had no grass left in his Riverdale yard. Shortly after, he won a number of garden contests and decided to move to the Beaches, where he co-authored books, began educating the public and eventually became president of the Beach Garden Society.

Throughout his discussion, Erdman raised a number of topics, but the question on everyone’s mind was how to protect bulbs from squirrels and bugs.

“The easiest thing to do is what I call Shake ‘n Bake with cayenne pepper,” he said. “You take the tulip bulb and put it in a bag with cayenne pepper. Spray a little bit of water on the bulb and shake it up before putting it in the ground.”

Squirrels are not interested and won’t even come near, as the smell is what turns them off, he said. Bugs can be deterred using a similar method that involves spraying a Jamaican hot pepper concoction onto the base and leaves of the flower.

Tulips are planted in the fall because they have developed a system called a bulb. As a result of heavy rainfall in the winter and relatively dry summers, the moisture that accumulates allows them to maintain throughout the year.

As for Erdman’s experience with the bulbs, he said not to worry about the snow or planting bulbs late in the year, as many species grow in the mountains and are used to harsh weather.

“I’ve planted them on Christmas Day and they still grow,” he said. As long as they are deep enough in the ground, they will be fine.