Chicagoans know better than to rely on the proclamations of groundhogs. Each year it is the tulips on the Magnificent Mile that announce to a winter-worn city that spring in all its splendor, has finally arrived. Yet much like a Chicago spring, the blooms last only a few short weeks and invariably leave us wanting more.

Bulbs from the 99 miles of planters throughout the city are removed in order to make way for summer arrangements. As we at Hoerr Schaudt prepared for the next season’s layout I wondered, “Where do all the tulips go?!”

The answer: Tulip Mania!

Hosted by the Garfield Park Conservatory, Tulip Mania is an event that recycles the bulbs and distributes them to the public for free. (The name Tulip Mania derives from a period of the Dutch Golden Age in which the price of tulip bulbs rose to incredibly high levels and fell suddenly and dramatically. The term is often used metaphorically to describe an economic bubble.) Now in its second year, the event was held over Mother’s Day weekend and I decided to check it out.

On my way to the Conservatory, I began to mentally prepare myself for the “MANIA” that I was about to take part in. Every posting of the event warned me that bulbs were given away on a first-come-first-serve basis and that they would go QUICKLY.

I admit that my imagination got the best of me. I envisioned throngs of fanatic gardeners, armed with canvas bags anxiously waiting in line for their chance at the tulips. In my head I actually heard security guards announce to the masses…”I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, only five bulbs per household!”

As I approached the parking lot at 10:04 a.m. I dreaded that I was just too late. I walked down the path and right through the gate. Aside from a smiling Conservatory volunteer with a clipboard, this was Tulip Mania:

The volunteer explained that there were hyacinth and tulip bulbs all mixed together and encouraged me to grab a plastic bag and dig in.

Although relieved that I no longer needed to fear getting trampled by tulips enthusiasts, I approached the pile hesitantly. A stream of thoughts ran through my mind: Am I really going to STEP on the Michigan Avenue tulips? These flowers are one of the hallmarks of our city. They were carefully selected by a team of landscape architects. It took hours to plant them by city officials. They’re beautiful! If my Uncle Doug finds out I’m standing on these…

I stood at the edge of the pile long enough for people to start staring—and quickly got over it.

While digging I listened to the casual chatter around me describing where the tiny bulbs would be planted. Backyards, terrace gardens, window boxes, apartment building entrances…

Hoerr Schaudt is honored to have a hand in adding beauty and vibrancy to our cityscape with the planters on Michigan Avenue and throughout the city. I couldn’t help but smile to know that all of this hard work continues to bloom in the homes of Chicagoans throughout the city year after year.

After twenty minutes I had cramped legs and dirty Toms, but my bag was full of bulbs! I was ready to head home and find the perfect spot for my new flowers. On my way out I filled out a sheet that asked for my zip code to help the city keep track of where all the new buds will be popping up next spring.

Overall the morning was a great success. Take this as your formal invitation to join me next year to continue to spread the magic of Michigan Avenue across the city and get a little crazy at Tulip Mania!

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