Jimmy Turner says everyone thinks his job as senior director of gardens at the Dallas Arboretum is pastoral, peaceful and fun all the time. And it is fun. Gardening is his work and his hobby, but it’s not all flowers and sunshine, he says. The weather in North Texas in the spring is unpredictable. “Wind, tornadoes, hailstorms, freezing rain, snow, flooding, heat,” he says. “These are things that keep me up at night.” Turner has been directing the arboretum’s gardens for 10 years. He designs Dallas Blooms, which opens March 4. He also masterminded the fall pumpkin village, which drew more visitors to the arboretum last year than the spring flowers. The arboretum used to focus on chrysanthemums in the fall, but that didn’t draw big crowds, Turner says. So about five years ago, he decided to focus on West Texas-grown pumpkins. The first year, they ordered about 1,500 pumpkins and built one house, impaling the gourds with stakes to form the house. It lasted barely two weeks because the pumpkins rotted. But since then, Turner and his staff have refined the building process, using fabricated metal bases to support the pumpkins. “We build a whole village now,” Turner says. Last year they ordered 55,000 gourds, semi trucks full. Dallas Blooms still is what the arboretum is famous for worldwide, Turner says, even tulip growers in Holland know about it. Last November, the arboretum’s horticulturists planted 500,000 tulip bulbs. The spring celebration also includes about 100,000 bedding plants, plus cherry trees, azaleas and flowering shrubs. Turner says he thinks of designing Dallas Blooms as designing a set. Everything has to look wonderful from every angle. “It’s a production,” he says. “It changes on a daily basis.” He plans the color schemes meticulously, even though the results won’t be seen for months afterward. “It’s like painting with invisible paint and then waiting to see what it’s going to look like once it’s visible,” he says. That is something he frets about too, but really, there are no bad color combinations, he says. One year, Southern Living featured Dallas Blooms, and the writer’s favorite color combination was found in a patch of garden planted with extra bulbs. “We mixed them up in a bucket and put them in the ground, and that was their favorite color combination,” Turner says. Turner is a home gardener who first started digging in the dirt as a kid at his parents’ side in East Texas. He says he plants tulips at home, but when asked for tips on planting tulips, he says, “Don’t plant tulips. They’re ethereal. They only last a couple of weeks at most, and they don’t come back. If you want to plant a bulb in the fall, plant daffodils. They’re very hardy, and they will keep coming back long after you’re gone.” Tulips are a lot of work. They don’t do well in our climate, but at Dallas Blooms, they last into May thanks to the rich soil and daily babying they receive from professional horticulturists. “The best thing to do is come here and enjoy them at Dallas Blooms or buy a cut bouquet,” he says.
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