To launch the gardening year each spring, Natalie Harder hosts a tea party timed to match the tulip display in her gardens. When the close to 5,000 bulbs she planted the previous fall throughout beds and borders surround- ing her Cape-style home in Shelburne, Vermont, are at
peak bloom, she welcomes guests to view the explosion of color.
“Each year, I try something new,” says Harder, an experienced
gardener whose passion for the paint-box effect leads her to choose a
varying palette of tulips. Early-, middle-, and late-blooming types are
orchestrated to create a dazzling effect that lasts for weeks.
The first flush of green leaves and the delicate blooms of redbud create an ebullient mood for partygoers. Drinks are served on the
screened porch or outside among eye-popping bouquets Harder has
arranged using her collection of handblown Simon Pearce vases.
“I always keep a pair of rubber boots by the door for anyone who
wants to swap out their nice footwear,” she says, and she provides
umbrellas if the weather calls for them.
A south-facing patio, designed by landscape architect Tricia King
and built by Distinctive Landscaping of Charlotte, Vermont, gives a
commanding view of the 8-acre property that includes a pool, a children’s playhouse, and a fire pit.
Behind the house, along the lawn’s edge where the backyard transitions to a hardwood forest and an undergrowth of
ferns, more than 1,000 tulips draw the eye in sweeps of
pink, orange, and lipstick red. Around the house and
pool, stone paths are edged with yellow and purple
tulips that glow in the sun, their petals catching the
light like stained glass.
For optimal effect, bulbs are mass-planted with
about 15 to 20 bulbs per hole, with groupings of roughly
100 bulbs in each sweep, dug into compost-enriched soil among drifts
of salvia, cranesbill, lady’s mantle, and old-fashioned bleeding heart.
Harder makes notes at the height of bloom and reviews planting combinations with her longtime gardener, Susan Longe, to decide
what works and what doesn’t. “It’s like a guest list,” says Harder. “Are
you invited back to the party?” Markers are left in beds to indicate
placement, using a coding system, and photos are taken as reference
for next fall’s planting.
A favorite that makes the party list every year is ‘Akebono,’ a large
yellow Darwin hybrid with petal tips etched in salmon red. “It’s like
you’ve taken a brush to each petal,” says Harder. “I love unique tulips
with different colors. It’s like painting with plants.” Masses of these
are grouped directly outside the kitchen window, along with speckled
snake’s head lily and sweeps of deep-blue grape hyacinth. “Sometimes
I come inside to look, and plant according to the view,” says Harder.
A wall of local Panton stone creates a sunny microclimate by the
front porch, where perennials such as candytuft, creeping sedum, and
cranesbill emerge early from dormancy, surrounding clumps of purple
‘Blue Spectacle’ tulips, a double variety.
Hostas and spotted lungwort make good shade companions to
‘Spring Green,’ a single viridiflora type with ivory petals and green
flame-like tepals that makes a quiet statement in the dappled light
along the pool’s edge. Elsewhere, in sunny beds, ‘Dordogne’
tulips command attention as peony and bluestar clumps
emerge. A cutting bed holds many special varieties such as
‘Daydream,’ a large hybrid tulip that changes from yellow
to orange as it matures, and ‘Charming Beauty,’ which has
a blush apricot hue. These and other varieties are used as
annual cut flowers.
So much color, so much joy.
natalie harder cuts
‘Minton’ tulips (below
left) for a bouquet.
‘Temple’s Favourite,’ a
fiery red variety (below
right), is interplanted
with peonies near the
house, where its color