By Jean Kaplan Teichroew
If you’ve ever strolled along Grace Church Rd. in the spring, you’ve probably seen colorful swaths of tulips blooming at the edges of the expansive lawn at 1923. Meet the man behind the tulips: Phil Costello has been planting them here every year since 2011. His interest in tulips took root when he lived in London: From his office near Buckingham Palace, he observed the planting of thousands of tulips. He also traveled frequently to Holland, where the flowers have been prized since the 16th century.
Phil starts planting his tulips in late November or after the first frost. He designs and digs trenches and places each bulb individually, this year about 750. (His all-time high is 2,100 bulbs!) Then he covers them with four to six inches of soil. Recently he has hired neighbors David Maya-Shelton and Jayden and Austin Jackson to help in the labor-intensive activity.
A major challenge is foiling predators, responsible for ruining up to 25 percent of the tulip garden. Squirrels dig up bulbs, but don’t seem to eat them. “They taunt me,” Phil laughs, “and then they throw away the bulbs,” leaving them on neighbors’ porches and in their yards. He places chicken wire over the bulbs to deter the pesky rodents and removes it so the tulips can grow when the weather warms. Deer don’t dig up the bulbs, but they do eat the blooms. “It’s constant effort,” says Phil, “vigilance is required.” He jokes that the deer of Grace Church may have changed their eating patterns after he placed signs directing them to a nearby street for better food.
Phil recommends purchasing tulip bulbs from colorblends.com. He also welcomes visitors to his garden. This writer has the advantage of seeing the vibrant flower display from her kitchen window, but you can take in the view come springtime. We’ll look for you on our street.