Tulips have bloomed in the Public Garden since the 1840s. But every year, when the colorful array breaks through the gray winter landscape, a feeling of joy rises with them.
“It is the true harbinger of spring beginning in Boston,” Anthony Hennessy Sr., superintendent of horticulture for Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, said by e-mail.
Right now, the tulips and other flowers planted by Hennessy’s crews are on full display, the peak moment for visitors to enjoy the brilliant show.
With more than 60 planting sites across the city, including the Public Garden, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, Columbia Road, Blue Hill Avenue, and Martin Luther King Blvd., orchestrating the springtime displays involves “an incredible amount of coordination and behind the scenes work,” said Hennessy.
But his staff is always up for the task, working with park partners, garden clubs, and community groups to carry on the tradition.
“With the Public Garden being the first botanical garden in North America, our goal is to bring that level of horticultural excellence to every beautification project we take on,” he said.
We caught up with Hennessy to find out more about this season’s offerings, and what flowers people will take in as they explore the city.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How much work goes into getting these flower displays ready for spring?
The actual planning part for tulips for next spring starts in the previous spring. Vendors from Holland will send out publications about new tulip varieties and I usually try to include a few interesting new varieties for the Public Garden and other locations. For instance, after the Marathon tragedy, a variety was introduced called Boston, which was a Triumph tulip that is yellow and maroon colored. We featured this in the Public Garden that spring.
I make an inventory of what we need for all our planting areas and a bid will go out during the summer for vendors. Usually in October the bulbs will be delivered to the Franklin Park greenhouses. Last year at that time, I was expecting the delivery of bulbs and it turned out the truck delivering them was “Storrowed” on Memorial Drive. A tractor-trailer hit a low bridge and all the bulbs were destroyed. Needless to say, this added a lot of stress to the tulip planting season as I waited for a replacement delivery. Fortunately, this winter was mild and my staff got everything planted.
Are we in the peak of tulip season?
The next two weeks are prime tulip-peeping. As long as the weather doesn’t get too warm during the day — 70 degrees [or higher] — and stays cool at night, between 40 and 50 degrees, tulips can hold their color for about two weeks.
The tulips we plant in the Public Garden bloom over several weeks. Some bloom earlier (Triumph tulips), some midseason (Darwin Hybrids), and some late into spring (Single Late; Alliums).
What can people expect to see in the Public Garden this year?
Several new varieties, or “blends,” are featured this year. Look for beds in the Public Garden and other parks like Winthrop Square in Charlestown that have up to three different colors and varieties planted closely together.
The vendors mix these varieties together because the colors and flower type complement each other. Blend varieties include Bicycle Kick and Checkmate.
What is your favorite part about the tulips blossoming and the spring season?
Many of the duties that myself and my crews work on are based on long-held traditions. Tulip mass plantings were introduced into the Public Garden in the late 1800s by then-superintendent William Doogue. Even though social media was a long way from existing, Doogue’s mass plantings of colors got the attention of many people who came to see his displays. Drawing people outside to enjoy something beautiful is the tulips’ unwritten task.
This is a Boston tradition that I hold dear and will always continue doing.