'I just like tulips': Mt. Pleasant yard alive with 1,000 blooms
It's pretty easy to pick out Don and Joan Orlando's quaint Mt. Pleasant home — there are 1,000 tulips blooming in the front yard.
“This is what I'll say about 1,000, with tulips it's not that many,” Don says with a straight face.
His wife thinks otherwise. “I thought he was nuts,” she says laughing. “I asked him, how are you going to plant 1,000 tulips?”
He's been planting bulbs for over 30 years, but never this many in a season. He'll usually poke around local retailers at the end of the season to see what he can find to plant, but lately has ordered every fall from Holland Bulb Farms in Wisconsin. As a regular customer he received an email last July offering all those bulbs in mixed colors for only $100. Sitting at his desk, it didn't take long for him to pull out his credit card and take the leap.
Even though the flowers are putting on a spectacular show now, Orlando is the first to admit he's no gardening expert. “I just like tulips, I plant them, enjoy them, share them, it's really just that simple,” he says with a warm smile.
It began in 1983, at St. Vincent College in Unity, where he works. He watched as a gardener pulled tulip bulbs after they bloomed, earmarked for the trash. Orlando took them and stored them in the garage waiting for the right time to get them in the ground. When he found out his wife was pregnant, it inspired him to get to work.
“I decided I was going to plant them and that would be a way to welcome our daughter in the spring,” he says. It was the next Mother's Day when he brought bouquets of pretty tulips blossoms for his wife and three other new moms in the room.
“They were beautiful,” Joan remembers. “You would have thought he gave them a million dollars, it was so sweet.”
Fast forward 30 some years and he's spending long hours each fall planting bulbs. Sometimes in the rain, other times as the light fades away. “That's nothing,” he says. “It's sort of part of the fun, planting is a great stress reliever.”
Many gardeners search out the biggest bulbs, but he's happy with smaller varieties that are cheaper and easier to plant. Orlando has tried many different ways to plant bulbs, but for his hard, clay soil, he prefers a power drill with an industrial drill bit that's 9 inches long and about 1 1⁄2 inches around. He drills the hole and then moves the bit around to widen the hole, making it big enough for the bulb.
Orlando has a great tip for spacing the bulbs, he puts a popsicle stick in the ground where he's going to plant each bulb. Not only can he get a good idea about what the drift of bulbs will look like, he's also assured of not planting where he's previously put bulbs. The planting averages about two minutes per bulb, which resulted in 30 to 40 hours of planting.
“When you're done with all this work, you see nothing for months,” he says, followed by his wife adding with a laugh, “I see somebody limping.”
Planting bulbs is not instant gratification, but for him all the work is worthwhile.
“It gives you great hope and faith in the future,” he says. “The payback is so fabulous.”
That's evident as neighbors and strangers alike stop to enjoy the flowers, which are all planted either in the front or side yard. He even sees his tulips in Facebook posts.
“It's nice that people appreciate what's you've done,” Orlando says, “but really I just do it because I love spring. This is something to look forward to all winter.”
His young neighbor Frank Crocetti stops by and asks if it is OK to clean Orlando's gutters. When Crocetti finishes he goes home with a bag of 100 tulip bulbs as gratitude. “You may curse me,” Orlando says to his neighbor, “because now you need to plant them.”
The flowers will fade away quickly as the days get warmer, but it's something Orlando enjoys not only for himself and family but for all of the people who see the flowers in their prime.
“That whole display will last a week, maybe 10 days,” he says. “It's a very brief reward. As long as I can do it, I'm going to do it.” For his wife though, the flowers evoke memories of a very special day. “I think about that all the time, whenever I see his tulips, I think this is as beautiful as when (daughter) Trina was born.”
Trina Orlando worked on air at KDKA-TV and now appears on WMAQ-TV, an NBC affiliate in Chicago. She's always quick to ask her parents how the tulips are doing each spring.