virtual 2020 Tulip Festival

Floral designer Sandra Sigman wades between beds of tulips at The Stevens-Coolidge Place.

Sandra Sigman spends her days immersed in flowers. On any given morning, you will find her juggling blooms with the greatest of ease for arrangements at Les Fleurs, her destination flower shop in Andover, Massachusetts. Even so, Sandra felt lightheaded when she rounded the bend at the nearby Stevens-Coolidge Place to behold 30,000 tulips in full splendor.

“When I turned the corner and walked into the garden, I literally gasped,” she says. “I guess I was starved for color, but I felt that even Holland would have been in awe.”

multicolored tulip arrangement by Sandra Sigman with pink, yellow, and white blooms

Sandra grounded her “totally tulip” arrangement in a pedestal container, letting the various double, French, and lily-flowered forms of tulips express depth.

The Stevens-Coolidge Place is stewarded by The Trustees of Reservations to preserve the 20th-century North Andover, Massachusetts, estate of Helen Stevens Coolidge and her husband, John Gardner Coolidge, a descendent of Thomas Jefferson’s. The staff at the historic estate was full of hope when crates of tulip bulbs arrived in autumn of 2019. But plans for sharing the 2020 Tulip Festival fizzled with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

field of yellow and pink tulips along a wavy brick wall

When architect Joseph Everett Chandler designed the Stevens-Coolidge gardens, he added a serpentine wall as a nod to Monticello.

Because the public was not permitted to come in person, the staff pulled together a Plan B that included virtual tours, videos, and demonstrations, enlisting volunteers to make tulip bouquets for local hospitals and senior housing. Sandra was on their speed dial as well; her contribution was to spread the joy via sumptuous arrangements to be featured in a virtual festival. And that’s how the designer spent a few weeks bonding with a flower that is the quintessential ambassador of color.

flower arranging tools and materials

From left: Sandra combined pearly-white French tulips with lily-of-the-valley and Solomon’s seal. She used a flower frog to secure the stems of tulips, lilacs, bleeding heart, and Solomon’s seal.

Even before Sandra selected her vases, tulips had already spoken to her. What she saw in that field was a burst of sunshine. “I’m not usually drawn to yellow as a theme,” she says, “but the yellow tulips in that field were so bright and cheery, they sparked my creativity.”

No wonder Sandra was ignited. What she saw was not your standard spring display. Rather than planting blocks of just one color in the typical tulip presentation, the horticultural team for The Trustees of Reservations had ordered bulbs from Colorblends, a purveyor known for artistic and carefully calibrated combinations. For Stevens-Coolidge, the team chose a blend that featured sherbet and lemon hues.

blue, white, yellow and peach arrangement by floral designer Sandra Sigman

Muscari and white hyacinths balance the visual weight of yellow and peach double tulips. Green viburnum softens the flow.

That scene served as the starting gate for Sandra’s ingenuity. Inspired by her connections to Paris—she lived there in her 20s—Sandra slipped easily into a celebration of tulips’ color range. In some arrangements, she coupled them with complementary hues for a spunky, smiling display. But she also found them to be perfect collaborators for what she calls “the soft landing” of building color echoes. “In the French flower shops, it’s all about bringing tones together for a nuanced story,” she explains. She also nestled different forms together to gain depth. Even within the tulip realm, by pairing double, French, and lily-petaled tulips, Sandra achieved arrangements with dimension and intrigue beyond the color factor.

“Tulips are all about levity and rebirth. Their flowers are like ballerinas—they dance” — Sandra Sigman

purple and white arrangement by floral designer Sandra Sigman

The rust and blue container informed the colors for an arrangement of tulips, lilacs, bleeding heart, fruit blossoms, Solomon’s seal, and hellebores from Sandra’s own garden.

The resounding outburst of appreciation was so deep, The Stevens-Coolidge Place plans to stage a vastly expanded celebration of color in spring 2021. With 150,000 bulbs planted throughout their grounds for the Spring Spectacular, flowers will shine and inspire once again.

The Stevens-Coolidge Place’s Spring Spectacular will be held April 24–May 16, 2021. Pre-registration is required. For more information, visit thetrustees.org

Tulips at the Stevens-Coolidge Place

Details of flowers at the 2020 Tulip Festival at The Stevens-Coolidge Place

From left: Colorblends gives its combos striking names, such as “Stop the Car” for a fervent blend of peach and plum. ‘Skyliners’ features pin-striped pastel petals.

The 1926 Stevens-Coolidge greenhouse often hosts workshops. Orange tulips anchor the foundation.

Details of flowers at the 2020 Tulip Festival at The Stevens-Coolidge Place

From left: The Japanese hybrid tulip ‘Akebono’ opens its semidouble flowers against green-striped sepals. The Colorblends combo ‘Aladdin’s Carpet’ combines species tulips with muscari and dwarf daffodils.

By Tovah Martin | Photography by Kindra Clineff

This story appears in the Scene column of Flower magazine’s Jan/Feb 2021 issue. Subscribe to the magazine or sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Flower magazine cover for January Febrary 2021

On the Cover, Jan/Feb 2021: Blue accents, including a vinyl wallpaper and a light-reflecting ceiling, bring color to the kitchen in an “estate condition” New York apartment designed by Phillip Thomas. Photographed by Michael Mundy.