Gardening was Kathleen Randle’s way of celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday.

In October, the retired teacher excitedly planted a bag of Canada 150 tulip bulbs—a Dutch-engineered flower promising a patriotic blend of red and white petals mimicking the Canadian flag.

Now that they’re in bloom, however, there’s a problem—her flowers are orange.

“I planted these especially in a corner of my garden so they would be (visible) for Canada Day,” she told in a phone interview from her home in Ancaster, Ont. “It was just disappointing that I went to all that trouble and it wasn’t what I wanted.”

Randle posted a photo of the tulips on Facebook.

“Mine are 10 squatty red with yellowy-red petals and 10 separate, different white flowers. Disappointing,” she wrote.

And she isn’t alone.

Several gardeners have taken to social media to express their disappointment with the orange blossoms.

“Except for on social media, I would never have known that it wasn’t my mistake,” Randle said. “I just assumed…that I had misunderstood what I’d gotten.”

Home Hardware, the major retailer that sold the flowers last fall, has acknowledged the problem and is offering a full refund to anyone who can prove they purchase the bulbs at one of their stores.

“We’re extending to our customers a very Canadian response, which is that we’re sorry,” spokesperson Jessica Kuepfer told in a phone interview. “We do take each individual case very seriously.”

Kuepfer said Home Hardware is asking each customer who bought the orange flowers to provide the time and location of their purchase as well as a photo, so that the company can work with the supplier in the Netherlands to figure out what went wrong.

“This is a big year for Canada and we want to make sure that we celebrate accordingly.”

So far, Home Hardware has only received 31 reports of the miscoloured flowers out of the 4 million Canada 150 tulip bulbs it sold. The tulips, however, aren’t yet in bloom in most of the country, so the scale of the problem remains unclear.

Packaging process likely to blame: horticulturists

Varieties of tulips such as the Canada 150 are created through hybridization, a process of selective breeding in which farmers can combine existing varieties of the flower to produce a new one.

The practice began after the Dutch were introduced to the tulip by Turkey and Persia in the 1600s. The Dutch have since hybridized more than 3,000 varieties of the flower.

But horticulturists agree that the mystery of the orange tulips is more likely a simple case of mislabelling than a hybridization problem.

“I believe the 31 reports that Home Hardware has received…were a results more of logistics and mixing up some different varieties of bulbs with the Canada 150 that were supposed to be put in the box,” gardening expert Mark Cullen told in a phone interview. “This isn’t a hybridizing problem or it would be much more widespread.”

Cullen said there can be “mild variation” in colour and pattern within a variety of tulip. In rare cases, more noticeable genetic mutations can occur through a process of natural hybridization. But Cullen said hybridization has become a precise process and neither of these explain how drastically different the orange flowers are from the intended red and white.

Egan Davis, a horticulturist at the University of British Columbia, said that, while the tulips farming process is highly mechanized, human error is most likely to blame.

“At the end of the day, the bulbs are in the field and it’s a person who identified which bulbs are going into which package,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because the right bulbs are somewhere, but they didn’t end up in the right bags.”

This spring and summer, Ottawa plans to showcase 300,000 of these flowers across the National Capital Region.

Tulips have been a longstanding sign of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, which first sent 100,000 of the flowers to Canada in 1945 in a show of gratitude for the role Canadians played in liberating the small European country during the Second World War.

“In the Netherlands, orange is their national colour,” Davis said. “Maybe this is their way of getting in on Canada 150.”