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Local gardener prefers tulips because they're first

Al Hoffman, 77, works in one of many flowerbeds at his home in Willmar. Although he grows a variety of flowers, he says he likes tulips the best because they bloom early. Tribune photo by Gary MIller

Winter was a tough one, even by Minnesota standards, and spring took its sweet time getting here -- if it's really here.

As for the April showers an old song promises will come our way, the showers continue to dump water on us in the month of May.

But the song also promises flowers and they're blooming everywhere.

Gardens and flowerbeds at homes, churches and parks all over west central Minnesota are filled with such blossoms of spring as tulips and daffodils.

That's natural in a country where three out of four people garden, according to the National Garden Association. It's probably even a little more common in this part of the country where many residents want to forget the blanket of white they face each winter.

One of the places in Willmar that makes up for the few of us who don't garden is the yard of Donna and Al Hoffman on Becker Avenue Southwest.

There the blossoms are so abundant, the Hoffmans' lawn seems unable to contain them all. Flowerbeds not only cover much of the property, they extend to the boulevards surrounding the Hoffmans' corner lot.

Taking advantage of a recent sunny afternoon, Al could be found working on his flowers.

Ask him what kinds of flowers he's planted, and he'll rattle off a long list: daffodils, hostas, pansies, petunias, zinnias, and lots of roses.

"I don't keep track of them all," Al said, "I just plant them."

But his favorite flower is currently in prominent and ample display on his yard.

"It's tulips I like best. They come up early and bloom early," he said.

Although they're associated with Holland, tulips have been popular for a millennium. They first grew wild in Central Asia and were cultivated by Turks around 1000 A.D., according to the website

Seven hundred years later, biologist Carolus Clusius introduced the tulip to Europe, including the Netherlands, the website states.

While their beauty explains why tulips spread from Asia to Europe to the U.S., the flowers are short-lived.

Experienced gardeners like Hoffman know they have to plant other flowers to replace tulips in the summer.

So he plants lilies that will grow to be a yard tall, zinnias and other flowers, he said.

Eventually, though, the lilies and zinnias must also die as yet another winter approaches.

That's when gardeners retreat inside and begin planning next spring's garden.