Dixon Blooms: A Celebration of Spring

By Sandi Butler Hughes

Photos courtesy of the Dixon Gallery & Gardens

When spring springs forth in our Bluff City, there is no better place than the Dixon Gallery & Gardens for a splendid show of nature’s exuberance. The Dixon Blooms is an event that lasts for weeks and is an over-the-top abundance of tulips and daffodils blooming throughout the gardens.

The event began in 2009, recalled Dale Skaggs, Director of Horticulture for the Dixon, with a mere 20,000 bulbs. “This year we have 125,000 newly installed bulbs for the spring,” he said. Note that “newly installed” is key as these bulbs are in addition to the permanent plantings at the Dixon. A key component of this event is the team of gardeners wielding bulb augers. Led by Dixon garden staffer Lorenzo Perez, staff plus volunteers plant the additional bulbs annually in the fall season. “In the right conditions, they plant about 5,000 bulbs per day,” Dale said. On the picnic Lawn behind the Hughes pavilion over 50,000 bulbs have been planted in that one area!

For 2018 The Dixon Blooms visitors will be treated to a profusion of daffodils. Yes, there will definitely be tulips in all their showy colors and configurations, but daffodil bulbs are the primary planting this year. “There’s a lot more to daffodils than just yellow, which is what most people think of. Some are salmon colored, some are pinks, pale yellows, and whites,” Dale said.

Rotation is also another key component for the annual installation. Just as farmers rotate crops for optimal return, the Dixon rotates the mixture of tulips and daffodils that are planted. “Tulips don’t come back and do well flowering again. We have heavy, clay soil, which they don’t like, and the soil is very acidic. Then we have hot summers so it set up an environment for a lot of pests that attack the bulbs. Memphis is just not tulip country,” he explained. So home gardeners take note: if you plant tulips, do not expect them to be perform year after year, and rotate where they are planted so pests can’t find them as easily.

Just as the bulbs are installed annually, they must also be uninstalled. Because tulips are not well-suited to Memphis, those bulbs are composted, but the Daffodil Society of Memphis works to repurpose and reuse the daffodil bulbs that are uninstalled. The Society shares them across the city for plantings in public parks and other spaces. Daffodils are dependable bulbs and can be enjoyed for decades. Daffodils continue blooming at abandoned homesites long after the gardener has moved on or even the house is gone – a testament to the fortitude of these bulbs. The Daffodil Society will also be presenting the Annual Daffodil Show, March 24-25, with examples of stellar daffodil blooms.

The exact dates for The Dixon Blooms event depend on weather and other factors, but Dale said it is generally between St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) and Tax Day (April 15). The Dixon will be posting updates on social media, and while there is a week that the flowers peak, there is no bad time for the flowering extravaganza. “I planted early-, mid-, and late-season bloomers. When they are planted shoulder-to-shoulder, you get a sea of color that lasts a really long time,” he assures. This is a blooming show not to be missed!