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Part 2 - How they all bloomed

It's been almost three whole months since I planted the first batch of indoor tulips. Now that the last flower has been cut, I'm here to say it was the most fun I've ever had during the winter months!

Is it just me, or are tulips not the most photogenic flower? I am still under their spell and am dying to show them off. I'm just the proudest plant parent ever! Without further ado, here is a photo journey of delightful tulips to feast your eyes upon...

Fringed variety 'Louvre'. My favorite of the purple and white color set!

This year I curated three different color palettes for my bouquet subscription. I ordered five varieties per color set with the intention of creating a dynamic mix even if a few of the varieties weren't up to par. I'd say this strategy worked out nicely. As always, several expected and unexpected things happened: substitutions and shortages from the bulb supplier, varieties that were too short to work in a bouquet, disease and misaligned timing.

Valentine's Day colors that didn't actually bloom for V-day.

Luckily, this was a trial year so none of these issues were insurmountable, just irritating. I say it every year and it remains true: fulfilling bouquet subscriptions is the most anxiety inducing part of the job. This wasn't quite as bad as forecasting blooms grown outside, but it takes time and experience to understand the nuance of how fast buds turn to blooms. Some varieties are ready in a few days after they start budding and others take longer. Add warmer temperatures and that throws everything off.

Yes, there was indeed an unintentional pink in the purple/white set.

Fun fact: tulips can hang out in my flower cooler for a short time with their bulb still attached with the right humidity and temperature settings. Oh, but only if they are picked a the right stage. And only if they feel like cooperating, or so it seems. Have I mentioned that tulips are divas?

Demanding blooms but well worth it.

Just in case you were curious, here's my post-harvest process:

  • Harvest 2x per day (in the comfort of my warm house!), wrap stems in kraft paper and place in the cooler.

  • The night before bouquet delivery: snip off the bulb, remove bottom leaf and hydrate over night.

  • Day of delivery: carefully assemble the most perfect blooms, delicately wrap and lovingly hand-tie each bouquet

  • Photograph, photograph, photograph

  • Deliver the most amazing tulips to the good people of Albuquerque!

The process in five photos. Don't let this simplicity fool you, it's harder than it looks.

Overall, this winter was glorious! January through March brought wave after wave of color and inspiration. I feel like all the planning that went into the different palettes was worth it because they were all beautifully unique. Like any good plant parent, I can't pick favorites but I will share some highlights.

'Columbus' just beginning to color up to fully open.


This double tulip was incredible! I'm not sure if she is my favorite purely because of her beauty or because she is the first double tulip I've grown that had longer than a 3" stem. I have never been a pink-lovin' kinda gal, but watching all the different colors shift and change during the week was nothing short of magical.

'Jochem', 'Charade' and 'Cadans' - which is which? Who knows!


Maybe? I ordered three orange varieties which all had blends of orange, pink and yellow hues. Perhaps this is flower farmer blasphemy, but they were all so similar that I was never able to tell them apart.

'Lydia' - awkward teenager to mature sophistication.


Surprisingly another another pink. I made the rookie mistake of judging this flower before letting her bloom. I was afraid that this variety was going to go bad too fast because the petals were curling before they opened. Alas, she was lovely! 'Lydia' started as a semi-hot pink and soften to a baby pink with the most adorable bright tips. Not the most stand out flower, but a solid addition to many palettes.

Mix of 'Columbus', 'Lydia', 'Tom Pouce' and 'Gabrielle' in the afternoon sunlight.

Well, that's it for my winter tulip show-and-tell! Fear not, my flower friends. While the inside tulips all done, the outdoor flowers are just getting warmed up - quite literally. The spring darlings including anemones, narcissus and ranunculus are starting to bloom which means that the fall planted tulips will be flowering in just one short month. Is it ever possible to have too many tulips? I think not!

Have you ever tried something new only for it not to go right? You had an idea, worked up the courage to try it, figured out the steps, and … well, it didn’t end up quite like the image you had in your head, the pictures on Pinterest, or YouTube videos. Then you get trapped by comparison, start piling on the should-have or meant-to thoughts, and spiral into self-doubt until you just give up.

My friend, I’m right there with you! I have been sharing the progress of my indoor tulip growing experiment and this is exactly how I am feeling. This is how I came to my epiphany about bud vases.

Let me back up a second because I know this sound a little funny.

I’ve been struggling to grow tulips outside for years. My soil just doesn't get and stay cool enough to grow amazing tulips. Often, they come out super short and "unsellable".

This year I started growing tulips indoors naively thinking I won’t have that problem. Growing indoors means that I don’t have to worry about fluctuating soil temperature all winter so no short stems, right? As you have probably guessed, this is not the case. Some tulips are coming out short. Like really short.

While I try to manage my expectations during trials, seeing these short blooms feels like a failure. Then I go outside and look at my first set of anemones which always start out short but stings every year, nonetheless.

Double whammy of disappointment.

First tiny anemones of the year. This bud vase was made by the talented Pottery by Karin in Albuquerque.

Why does this sting so much? After all, they are flowering in February and that is incredible by itself. Isn't that enough?

Here’s the thing, flower farmers learn from day one that people want long stems. Several market variables have created this expectation and demand which has led me to become trapped in the mindset of short = worthless.

What this really means is that a certain type of buyer doesn’t want short stems because they can’t use them for their purpose. Of course, in my mind, this translates to no one wants short stems. But is this true? Short flowers are beautiful. Just as beautiful as the same flower on a long stem. So here’s where bud vases come in.

A bud vase is a small vessel with a narrow opening intended to hold a few flowers. Maybe just one perfect bloom. You have probably seen them around as they have become exceedingly popular in the last few years and here is why.

Bud vase trio with my favorite found-in-the-kitchen option: empty spice containers!

Its purpose is to showcase beauty. It doesn’t matter if a bloom is short. In fact, bud vases were designed to be short. They were originally made to hold the first spring buds like crocus or hyacinth which are tiny.

Bud vases bring focus to one amazing flower. Foliage and filler flowers add wonderful elements to bouquets and arrangements, but sometimes a flower just needs its own space. It's like a magnificent piece of art in a museum or gallery. White space allows the art to breathe. It needs to be viewed free from distraction or overwhelm by other colors and textures.

This is equally true for daily life. Who doesn’t need the equivalent of white space so that you can breathe freely?! Who doesn’t want to focus more on the important things like health or relationships? I certainly want less distraction and overwhelm so that I can focus on what’s most important to me. I have feeling you feel the same.

Technically not a bud vase as the opening is too wide. But I made it and it's great for showcasing blooms.

Lastly, bud vases are small but capable of big impact because of their simplicity. Big things can be wonderful focal points and fill up space, but they can also be distracting and get in the way. Big ideas are dreamy and exciting, but also scary and overwhelming. Those bulky things end up getting cleared out, and those big ideas have to be broken down into small, manageable pieces in order to execute.

A bud vase with sweet little anemones makes its own special impact. Their simplicity is stunning, but they can be overlooked when surrounded with other blooms. However, in a bud vase they are center stage and can be appreciated for their elegance, clean structure, and the fuzziest center you’ve ever seen. In a bud vase, they are perfect.

Again, just like life. I want to feel like this is manageable, not be crippled by overwhelm. I want to see things for what they are, not just their association with or comparison to something else. I want to value something (or someone) for its wonderful, innate qualities not because society tells me I should or shouldn’t.

A uniquely shaped salad dressing container makes a perfect bud vase for taller stems.

So, thank you little bud vase for being the vessel of this lesson in a moment in which I need it. I can’t say that I’ve been cured of my short-stem anxiety because it’s never that simple. Instead, it’s about the reminder to take a step back and think:

  • This isn’t a failure, it’s not the right perspective. This time and place isn’t the right fit, so try something else.

  • Don’t get lost in the fluff or fillers. Find a little white space to breathe and focus on what matters today.

  • Something small can have so much impact. It’s about timing, placement, and being open to observation.

Here’s my invitation to you, my friend: add a bud vase to your space and see how it makes you feel. Spring is coming and there will be leaves and flowers budding out ripe for cutting.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Maybe it’s the reminder or change of perspective you need today to reframe the challenges you are facing.

Part 1: The first three weeks

Last March, I decided to experiment with growing tulips indoors to help get me through the January doldrums. A major motivation in this experiment is that most of us crave fresh and colorful life in the middle of the dormant winter. I also love experimenting with new flowers and growing methods, so this is a great reason to turn my grow lights on earlier than usual. I figured I'd share a little more about them because, like me, you might feel that winter is slowly shrinking your soul and you need to see something green.

So here we go!

The Process

Okay, let's talk tulips. Tulips are interesting because as a bulb they have all the energy they need to bloom already stored. They send out roots and leaves to photosynthesize so they can grow, but tulips that are used for cut flowers are grown as a “one and done”. This means they can be “forced” into flowering by just using water to grow. We do not need to provide additional nutrition because we aren't aiming for them to reproduce and grow another flower. Really this means that I'm not growing them hydroponically because I'm not using nutrients in the water, but let’s not get too technical here.

What tulips do need to flower is a certain number of cold hours, just like fruit trees. Bulbs used for forcing are chilled at a specific temperature by the bulb supplier for 15-20 weeks before “planting”. The bulbs are placed in trays without any growing medium (aka soil or potting mix) and given clean water to initiate rooting. The bulbs root for two weeks in the dark at about 40-45 degrees F. With roots and shoots, they are then placed under grow lights in a warmer temperature where they grow for another month before flowering.

Naked tulips ready for planting.

The Nitty Gritty

The first step to preparing these soon-to-be-beauties is to remove their tunic. Yep, you have to undress these bulbs from their papery skin since they will not be pushing up through soil to remove it for them.

The second step is to place each bulb in the tray with the point facing up. Our Dutch friends have been doing this process for quite some time and have created a handy little tray made specifically for this purpose. Of course, I didn't buy enough of these fancy trays so I'm also experimenting with some standard seeding trays. Gotta problem solve, you know.

In the hydroponic trays, the bulb sits nicely in between the rows of needles. By nicely, I mean that some of them get impaled a bit, but it helps them stay anchored and upright as they grow their heavy foliage.

There is something very satisfying in seeing all these bulbs nicely lined up, don't you think?

Left: Planted in hydro trays and filled with water. Middle: Planted in 72-cell seeding trays. Right: Day 3 roots and shoots.

In the hydroponic trays, the water line reaches perfectly to the basal plate of the bulb which is where the roots grow. The bulbs don't want to be submerged in water so the trays have holes punched in the side so this doesn't happen. I simply top off with fresh water as the roots grow and the water level goes down.

Left: Close up of tray spikes and root growth (day 22). Right: Day 16 growth of shorter varieties.

After two weeks in my garage at about 42 degrees, I bring the trays in to my grow room (aka spare bedroom exclusively for growing plants), turn on my racks of grow lights and keep the temperature at a nice 60-70 degrees by using fans and opening the window. Now they should grow for about 4 more weeks and be ready to harvest in time for my first round of bouquet subscriptions.

That was the plan at least...

Set #1, batch #1 day 22. Five different varieties of what should be a purple and white palette.

Wait, there was a plan?

One of my favorite aspects of growing is the planning. It's like taking a trip - half the fun is in the anticipation. I had a beautiful plan for growing these tulips that I carefully crafted for WEEKS. Selecting the right type of tulips, lining up timing, scrutinizing the color palettes, staying on budget, and creating space in the grow room. Weeks of planning resulted in three different color palettes (planted between two weeks) with one week between starting a new color set so that customers would receive a bouquet every three weeks. Oh yeah, plus a set in the middle scheduled to bloom in time for Valentine's Day. Perfect! It makes fantastic sense on paper.

I know, the only thing that I should plan for is for the plan to change. So far this plan has changed about ten times and I'm only 22 days into this process. As you can see, the varieties in this batch are not growing evenly. There is even a variety that is starting to color up three weeks early! Did these tulips not see the plan?!

Set #1 batch #2 day 16, same five varieties. Second day under lights.

Over Here in Reality...

It's okay though. I knew that I was taking a risk and trying something new. That is the point of experimenting - keeping life fresh with new learning experiences. It's exciting to watch the sprouts getting taller every day. It's exciting to see differences in color and height. It's exciting to have the first buds showing color even if it is not in line with my plan.

Buds coloring up on day 22. Will these be purple, or did I misjudge the variety?

Why does the plan matter so much anyway? Well, because I'm a perfectionist that deeply strives to maintain a sense of order in life. Yeah, I know, I'm in the wrong line of work to hold that expectation. Really the plan is meant to understand the required space, tools, and timing. More importantly, the plan is to be able to communicate with the lovely, lovely people who buy these beautiful flowers. There are no markets open this early in the year (January - March) which means I rely on bouquet subscriptions to have homes for these flowers. This means that I need to tell people when there bouquets should arrive, but these little divas don't follow anyone's schedule but their own.

All that goes to say, thank you for being here on this flower journey with me and understanding that the flowers will be beautiful but probably not on schedule!

Stay tuned and we'll see what delights the next few weeks has in store...

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