Canada 2017

Canada 150 tulips: Gardening diaries from across the country

A tulip that looks like the Canada flag? Gardening enthusiasts and experts from across Canada share their stories and snapshots of the coveted Canada 150 tulip.
Claudette Sim's tulips in Hamilton are starting to show a little colour. (Claudette Sims)

Forget the roses. This year, Canadians may want to stop and smell the tulips.

The bulbous perennial has long held a special place in the Canadian imagination. Each year, the Canadian Tulip Festival celebrates the flower as a symbol of international friendship, inspired by the Dutch royal family's historic postwar thank you gift of 100,000 tulips. 

Now, on the occasion of Canada's 150th anniversary, the aptly named Canada 150 tulip will likely steal the show. Selected by the National Capital Commission in Ottawa, the flower's red and white petals will echo the colours of the Canadian flag.

In anticipation, we reached out to gardening experts and enthusiasts across the country, including some of the regular columnists on local radio shows, to find out where they are in the growing cycle.

Follow this post for dispatches from our diarists. More entries and updates to come as we inch toward full bloom across the country. (Last updated May 29.)

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia 

May 29th, 8:57 a.m. AT

Well my Canada150 tulips survived the squirrels (well most of them), the snow, and the moving, to grace the planters on my deck.

I'm happy to say that unlike some of my fellow gardeners, all of mine turned out to be red and white as promised, with not a yellow tinge or solid colour to be found. If I had it to do over again, I would plant extra solid whites and reds to accompany them. I think a mix would be even nicer. For now I will just enjoy the 150 tulip heads (minus the squirrel food) that are swaying gracefully, greeting visitors to my door.

Bona's tulips in full bloom, May 29, 2017. (Weldon Bona)

May 11, 6:44 p.m. AT

Today I moved my 15 pots of Canada 150 tulips from the greenhouse to the great outdoors. Really nice to see the colours develop.

Weldon's tulips have escaped the basement and the shed! (Weldon Bona)

I kind of like them in this green and white form. After a week of rain we are forecast to get sun this weekend so they should really take a leap!

Weldon Bona, the Cape Breton Gardener

Hamilton, Ontario

May 6th 11:47 a.m. ET

Happy World Naked Gardening Day! Yes, there is such a thing and of course the main attraction of the day is gardening — well, actually, naked gardening — and then posting a photo of yourself in the garden. (Check the Internet if you don't believe me.) 

It's pretty obvious to me that the folks who put this holiday on the first Saturday in May were not located in Canada or even balmy southern Ontario. Today, we are "enjoying" rain and a forecast high of 7°C (feels like 3°C). Brrr! On the bright side, it's one of the first times that I feel adventurous enough to publish the photo of me in the garden during WNGD.

Claudette's Canada-friendly contribution to #WNGD. (Claudette Sims)

As for my Canada 150 tulips — more of them are showing some "skin colour," but most are still "clothed" in their sepals, at least until the weather warms a bit more! I can sure identify with that!

(FYI: Naked Gardening Day is not an ideal time to prune the roses.) 

April 30th 4 p.m. ET

Weather forecast: Light rain 5°C. Feels like 1°C.

Health forecast: Headache/congestion. Chance of runny nose throughout the day. Feels like a truck hit me.

After returning from the pharmacy with cold meds, what do I see? My Canada 150s are up! And I think I can see the flame inside!

While she was sneezing, Claudette's tulips popped up to brighten her day. (Claudette Sims)

Revised forecast: Runny nose/headache improving into the evening. Will feel much better when tulips open.

Claudette Sims, president, Master Gardeners of Ontario

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia 

April 22, 6:34 p.m. AT

This is what Canada 150 tulips look like after a winter in a cold basement.

These tulips have emerged from a winter spent in an unheated basement. (Weldon Bona)

I moved them to the garden shed today, where they'll lavish for a couple of weeks. Once the flower buds are showing I'll move them out to their final home outdoors. 

To add to the drama I noticed that some emerging leaves have a fungus that is causing the leaf to be deformed. I don't think it will result in any long-lasting effect but it's something I have to watch.

April 29, 2017 1:37 p.m. AT

What a difference a week makes! Last week they were rather sickly shoots emerging from their winter hibernation and now they are like a tulip jungle. 

Wow! Are these the same sickly tulips that emerged from the basement? (Weldon Bona)

Watching the leaves unfurl, so close up, really adds to the experience. The leaves set the stage for the soon-to-emerge flower buds. 

I still haven't watered them since last fall but I think a long drink at the end of the weekend is in order.

Weldon Bona, the Cape Breton Gardener

Hamilton, Ontario

April 18th 11:56 a.m. ET

Canada 150 tulip a.k.a. Nothin’ but Leaves-a-lot-to-be-Desired. (Claudette Sims)
Checking your Canada 150 tulip every day, hoping for signs of flower buds, can lead to disappointment. 

April 6th: leaves but no flower.
April 7th: leaves but no flower.
April 8th: leaves but no flower.

Sigh …you get the picture. I'm thinking of changing the name of this tulip to 'Nothin' but Leaves-a-lot-to-be-Desired'.

Thankfully the rest of the garden is bursting with colour and life! Bees are a buzzing around the scylla and crocuses and there have even been brief butterfly appearances! Scented violets, chionodoxa, hyacinth, daffodils, Virginia Bluebells, hellebores and early tulips are making an appearance. You can actually smell my garden before you see it!

Claudette's garden is already teeming with bees, butterflies and many flowers — including other types of tulip. But so far no Canada 150 bloom! (Claudette Sims)

I guess it wouldn't hurt to check my Canada 150 before I go in for lunch ...

Well, what do you know! The promise of flowers at last!

Canada 150 tulips finally showing some promise: buds emerging from the leaves! (Claudette Sims)

Claudette Sims, president, Master Gardeners of Ontario

Lethbridge, Alberta

April 18, 6:10 p.m. MT

Lyndon's Canada 150 tulips surrounded by a galaxy of flowering chickweed. (Lyndon Penner)

Spring is well on its way here in [climatic] zone three and many of our early flowering plants are flowering — in the coulees, the Hood's Phlox, Prairie Crocus, three flowered avens and Buffalo berries are all in bloom! There are Mourning Cloak butterflies floating about and I have been hard at work in my greenhouse seeding and transplanting. 

I haven't spent much time looking at my tulips this week except that there is a small but persistent rabbit who keeps coming into my yard.

I chase him out every time I see him because I am sure he is going to eat the tulips, the little trouble maker

The tulips are well on their way but nowhere near blooming yet, as you can see. 

Lyndon Penner, gardening columnist for CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

April 10, 2:29 p.m. MT

Late last week I visited friends in Toronto. In the sunny front yards across the street from their house, the crocuses are going strong, and I see pinpoints of purple in the patches of dead grass and leaves.

There're more life in the park nearby as well: lilies, daffodils and snow drops. Robins, the harbinger of spring birdlife, were bouncing up and down, looking for something to eat. During a long walk on a warm day, we saw hundreds of people out, enjoying the change of season. 

Coming home to Yellowknife rewinds spring right back to its first appearance.

The days are longer and warmer but the snow is still on the ground. Now in its sixth month, the remnants are an unwelcome sight, flecked with gravel and dust, crusty from melting on warmer days, taking such a long time to disappear. Not a robin anywhere, nevermind a green shoot or bud. But wait!

A sign of spring! Who cares if it's indoors? (Julie Green)

My Canada 150 tulips have started to bloom, slowly, like the change of season. Spring is indoors while the outdoors catches up.

Julie Green, former CBC journalist, now a member of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly

Whitehorse, Yukon 

March 20 1:02 p.m. PT

The Yukon Commissioner's Canada 150 tulips were a Flag Day delight! (Douglas Phillips)

My Canada 150 tulip adventure began last September when 500 tulips arrived in our office. We packaged the bulbs in groups of three and handed them out to the public at the Whitehorse Fireweed Community Market. Within two hours we had run out. 

Our office had hoarded a few. I planted 150 around the flagpoles of our office at Taylor House (Yukon's Government House) and six at home.

I had planned for my six to blossom in time for January 1 — however Mother Nature chose National Flag Day in February for their splendid show. 

As for the 150 outside in the ground, we are adjusting their show date. The plan was for them to bloom by July 1, but based on how our winter is going we've had to make adjustments. We are now planning on seeing our outdoor tulips by Labour Day in September. Haha. 

Douglas Phillips, Commissioner of Yukon

Hamilton, Ontario

A lot can change in two days! Left: Claudette's garden on March 19. Right: The same garden on March 21. (Claudette Sims)

March 19 6:00 p.m. ET

G'day mates! I spent February in sunny Australia (to escape the usual February blahs in southern Ontario) only to learn it had been an especially balmy month. I was delighted to see snowdrops and early crocuses in bloom on February 28th, the day of my return. Great! I thought. The tulips won't be far behind! Then March came in like a lion — a cold, white, nasty lion …

This is my garden on March 19th — one day before spring officially arrives. I planted my Canada 150 tulips here last fall.

"Sigh. I know. It could be more aptly titled 'A Polar Bear in a Snowstorm' than 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips'. " (Claudette Sims)

March 21st 12:45 p.m. ET

What a difference two days make! The sun is shining, the snow is gone and it's actually warm out! The crocuses have reappeared and the snowdrops recovered from being buried in the snow.

You can see where I planted my Canada 150 tulips now. I place a clay saucer over them to thwart the darn squirrels from doing their own garden redesign.

The big reveal: what's going on under there?

Take that, sneaky squirrels! (Claudette Sims)

Oh, nothing yet. :(

Maybe we'll see something in another two days!

Claudette Sims, president, Master Gardeners of Ontario

Lethbridge, Alberta

March 15, 6:22 p.m. MT

The snow is a blanket for Lyndon Penner's sleeping tulips. (Lyndon Penner)

I am somewhat obsessed with tulips. They are a flower that has literally driven men mad.

I planted well over 150 tulips last September, but this is normal for me. In fact, since I have no other hobbies or vices, I spent almost $300 on bulbs last year just for the joy of seeing them in the spring. My latest batch includes dozens of Canada 150 tulips. (It is not enough to simply grow one kind of tulip!)

I live in Lethbridge. Since it is still very much winter in Alberta, my tulips are still fast asleep in the garden with no sign of emerging. This is normal. Tulips usually flower here in late May or early June, depending on the year. I'm betting there will be no sign of them until sometime in May. But I'll write again as soon as I see something!

Lyndon Penner, gardening columnist for CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

March 15, 2:03 p.m. MT

Julie Green's tulips sprouted shoots within 24 hours. (Julie Green)

I planted my Canada 150 tulips last Saturday, March 11 — a cold day at the end of a cold week and long winter here in Yellowknife. We probably have another month of snow but the wait for new life was suddenly unbearable.

By this time of year, I am in a state of sensory deprivation, desperate for the sight of a green shoot, the sound of a robin or the smell of the earth. I'd had the bulbs stored in my cold room since I got them from a local environmental group last fall.

On Saturday, I climbed over a snowbank and reached into my greenhouse to grab a window box. I filled it with soil from the garage and stuffed my two dozen bulbs in, and put the box in the front window where it will get the sun. A few sprouted shoots within 24 hours. Despite the blizzard now howling, spring is on its way. 

Julie Green, former CBC journalist, now a member of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia 

March 16, 9:47 p.m. AT

Weldon Bona's tulips are beginning to peak out from their winter slumber. (Weldon Bona)

Last fall I planted 150 Canada 150 tulips: 10 bulbs in 15 two-gallon pots. After spending a few weeks outside in the cold, they moved in mid-December to my unheated basement for the winter.

Today, March 17, they are beginning to peak out from their winter slumber as we approach the first days of what is shaping up to be a late Cape Breton spring.

Once I see the first sign of outdoor tulips poking out of the ground I'll drag these (and countless other) tulips from my basement to a sheltered spot outdoors. Then they will make their way to their final homes in clay pots and planters throughout the garden.

I find that tulips, with very few exceptions, perform best for me as annuals. Once they have finished their magnificent display, it's off to the compost pile. Over the years several friends have volunteered to take the spent bulbs off my hands to try their luck in reblooming them in their gardens. I happily comply, but the odd bulb that does reflower hardly seems worth the effort or space. I'm happy to keep the Dutch (and P.E.I.) tulip growers in business and it gives me a chance to grow different varieties every year!

Weldon Bona, the Cape Breton Gardener

Ottawa, Ontario

March 17, 2:50 p.m. ET

On a rainy planting day last October in Ottawa, community members helped plant 300,000 Canada 150 bulbs. (National Capital Commission)

I'm Tina Liu, also known as the tulip lady! I design the Capital's tulip beds at the National Capital Commission. It's an art that I've mastered with our stunning springtime show of one million tulips blooming across the Capital Region year after year.

This spring, our flower beds will be even more extraordinary with 300,000 Canada 150 tulips blooming across the Capital. This unique species will brighten our popular flower beds for this year's celebrations. The vibrant red and white flame patterns, both inside and outside the tulip, reflect the colours of the Canadian flag. Being in the Triumph group, it's well adapted to our Canadian climate and it will rebloom for many seasons. 

Tina Liu, landscape architect at the National Capital Commission

Have you planted a Canada 150 tulip? Give us your update in the comments below, and email us a photo if you have one to share. Submissions are subject to CBC/Radio-Canada Content Submission Guidelines.


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