Each spring tourists travel to Amsterdam to experience the sea of spring flowers at Keukenhof, the flower garden known for its 7 million flowering bulbs, the most famous being tulips.
Closer to home from mid-March to mid-April residents driving along Trenholm Road view a vignette of tulips from Amsterdam planted in long raised beds in front of Trenholm Road United Methodist Church. The dazzling display comes from the flower power of BJ and Mike Dall, partners in planting 15,000 tulips annually, half at church and half at home. The veteran duo started planting tulips in their home gardens 40 years ago adding the churchyard garden 25 years ago.
Tulips have taught BJ about their predilections in the southern landscape and climate. Rather than expecting tulips to perform as perennials, it’s an easy flower to grow if treated as an annual with new bulbs planted each year. BJ advises, “Everything tulips need to flower is in the bulb. Buy a good bulb and plant it deep enough—8 inches is best.”
The Dalls order tulips in July for the following spring. Their grower pre-chills the bulbs for 13 weeks just prior to shipping to Columbia the week after Thanksgiving.
The first two weeks in December are set aside for the planting routine. As Mike drills 8” deep holes with a gas powered 3” bulb auger, BJ drops a bulb into each hole and covers all with soil. She calls it “mindless work” and says, “We do it because we really love it. We worship in nature.”
BJ, a retired critical care nurse, appreciates gardening as an escape from death and dying. She notes since they don’t have children, “these (tulips) are our children in college.”
After tulip bulbs are snuggled in, BJ spreads the surface with violas, a winter annual in the south. By mid-March tulips emerge among smiling faces. When tulips wane, BJ plucks each tulip from the bed replacing them with red geraniums for summer.
How do the Dalls design the colorful display? After years of experimenting with buying tulips, BJ has found the Schipper family-owned Colorblends Wholesale Flowerbulbs in Bridgeport, Conn., as a highly reliable source of carefully choreographed tulip mixtures with breathtaking displays of late-bloomers for the south. She has toured their trial gardens in the Netherlands.
This year, BJ selected their French Blend Rose, in shades of pink, rose, and apricot as the base with which to add separate tulips like soft violet-mauve Sherbet, and Dordogne, a multi-colored tulip changing hue with the light. Company advisors offer suggestions on late bloomers to try and send her samples of tulips to trial. They encouraged her establish a “picking plot” in her home garden for creating tulip bouquets, which become altar flowers, home floral arrangements and gifts to others.
Visit the Dall display of Dutch tulips from Amsterdam on Trenholm, their annual labor of love to the church and community.