Here's How a Self-Taught Gardener Grows Over 800 Tulips Every Spring
Tumbleweeds could have rolled through the barren yard of this 1935 Oklahoma City Tudor home 26 years ago when Linda Vater and her husband, Jamie, bought it. Now, it’s a kaleidoscope of bold colors, especially in spring, when about 800 tulips put on such a show that she often watches lines of cars rolling by to take them in. It’s a satisfying scene for Vater, a self-taught gardener who did all of this herself. All she knew when she moved in was that she loved the 100-year-old Shumard red oak that graces the front yard. “It’s the reason we bought the house,” she says. “Let me tell you—it’s rare to have such a big old tree in Oklahoma!” Vater’s love for that oak turned into a passion for plants, which eventually led to her role as the Garden Guru for a local TV station and a blog, potagerblog.com. See what Vater learned from her garden and what plants she used to make it a spring showstopper.
Inspired by the Setting
“I have an English-style garden because I have an English Tudor house. If I had a different house, I’d have a different-style garden. They have to speak the same language.” She designed everything in her front yard around that beloved oak tree—even using its shade line to define the shapes of her flowerbeds. Where she couldn’t grow grass for lack of sun under the tree, she tore out part of the lawn in favor of beds. The curves of her beds follow the footprint of the house and serpentine lines of the low brick wall. Near the house, azaleas put on a pink-and-red show in spring and (along with other evergreens) provide a verdant background year-round. Smaller boxwoods and variegated euonymus are scattered throughout the beds, offering a constant framework for the rotating cast of annuals and perennials that come and go throughout the seasons.
Keep Size in Mind
When planting in spring, she places shorter plants like creeping phlox, violas, and pansies in front; medium-size plants like golden feverfew and ornamental cabbage in the middle; and tulips in the back because they’re the tallest. “Tulips are like little soldiers marching across the yard, and I don’t like them marching in front of my other plants,” says Vater. And if something starts taking over, feel free to cut it back or give it the boot. “Don’t let your plants boss you!” she admonishes.
Our 10 Best Container Gardens
If managing a full garden isn't your style, we recommend instead turning to these bright, bountiful container gardens for inspiration. We picked our ten favorites – a variety of outdoor containers, indoor greenery, and porch perfection.
Picking the Flowers
Take your home’s location into account when deciding what plants to use. “Every plant I choose is viewed through the lens of ‘Will it do well in Oklahoma?’ ” Vater says. She learned what would endure the Sooner State’s long, hot summers and harsh winter ice storms by asking friends who are pros, reading publications by her local Cooperative Extension service, and old-fashioned trial and error. Spring is her big colorful season. Then for summer she says, “I do the minimum, because in Oklahoma, color in hot weather equals work. I don’t particularly want to be in the garden when it’s so hot, and I don’t think the begonias do either.”
1. French Blend Rose Tulip - Traffic-stopping blooms come in light pink, rose, and apricot hues. Vater mixed these midseason tulips with early season white ones to extend bloom time. White ones start in mid- to late-March; pinks and reds pop up in April. “Plant them close together in a rickety-rackety fashion with 15 to 20 bulbs in a single 2- to 3-foot hole,” says Vater.
2. Columbine - This perennial with fascinating purple flowers is irresistible to hummingbirds.
3. ‘Coral Bells’ Kurume Azalea - Abundant pink flowers grace this mounding evergreen.
4. Pansy - With dark purple markings, the petals pop next to vivid green foliage.
5. ‘Snow’ Kurume Azalea - An avalanche of icy white blooms accents this compact shrub.
6. Ajuga - Captivating blue flower spikes adorn a ground cover that needs good drainage and likes sun or shade.
7. German Chamomile - Also known as “false chamomile,” this aromatic plant offers feathery foliage and daisy- like blooms.
8. ‘Gold Heart’ Bleeding Heart - You’ll fall in love with its stunning gold leaves and delicate pink blooms. It thrives under shade trees.
9. Golden Feverfew - Give it plenty of sun, and it will thank you with eye-catching chartreuse foliage.