A few years ago, I attended a talk given by tulip expert Anna Pavord. At the time I felt most frustrated because my garden was dark and shaded and had clay, wet soils – the opposite of what tulips like. When we moved to Fieldcrest six years ago, my world was completely changed – I now have a lovely sunny garden with well drained soils- so, bring on the tulips!
November is a good time to plant tulips, as it reduces the risk of fire blight, a fungus which can kill tulips. The tulip season lasts form March until May, with various types flowering at different times. I start the season with some of the species tulips such as Tulipa bakeri and clusiana which flower in March, and the Kaufmanniana and Gregii tulips which flower in March / April. Clusiana, which is red in colour, is often grown around fruit trees and it looks wonderful.
All of the above are fairly low growing and look good in a rockery, at the front of a border or in containers. They are also the most perennial types. The Fosterians flower in April here in the north west. I like Albert Heign, a nice pink tulip, Cantata which is red with a touch of yellow, and white Purissima , which has very large flowers – again these look good in containers as you can appreciate their large flowers. All should reappear each year.
The Triumph group comprises hundreds of varieties and grows to about 20”. These are the ones that are often used for bedding and cutting. I love these, although they don’t usually return the following year. My favourites in the pink and purple range are Negrita, Queen of Night, Jan Reus, Havran, while Pax is a good white and Couleur Cardinal, a wonderful crimson. The latter two should repeat flower year after year. I am also putting a selection of these in the cutting garden. They flower from about mid April to May, depending on the variety.
The Parrot Tulips have extravagant, creased blooms. I love Orange Favourite, not only for it’s orange / scarlet/greeny shades, but for it’s lovely sweet scent. Although I don’t generally like orange tulips, it is, as Brucie would say, ‘My Favourite’. The Parrot ‘Rococo’ is a sport of Colour Cardinal, so I am planning to grow them together next year. Viridifloras, such as Spring Green are worth having, although Spring Green can look a bit insipid. Team it up with euphorbias and some dark tulips, such as Queen of Night or its double sport, Black Hero. There are quite a few garden worthy viridifloras, but I find them a little difficult to place. I am growing Florosa in a container this year. It is a very tall, has greeny-white- pink flowers which appear late in the season. I had it in the garden last year, but forgot that it would be flowering near to my yellow laburnum – not a pretty sight. So I am going to copy Sarah Raven this year and put it in a container with Dolls Minuet, a lovely tulip with red /purple flowers with a green stripe and Virichic which has purple/red flowers.
I grow more lily flowered tulips than any other types. They have a good chance of coming back again, and are so elegant and attractive, plus some, like Ballerina, are scented. They flower here in May. I grow China Pink with Maytime and Jacqueline and add some white with White Triumphator. I also add some double late tulips like Angelique and Blue Diamond to the front of the border. These look like little peonies and last quite a long time. They also look lovely in pots where you can appreciate their flowers.
If you want a bit of zing, the double flowered Carnaval de Nice should do it, with red and white flowers.
Wallflowers, honesty, and forget me nots ( myosotis) associate well with tulips. Due to our strange weather, the wallflowers I sowed in June are actually flowering, so I can decide which ones would look good with my chosen tulips. Blood Red. Vulcan, the orange Fire King and Ivory Giant, are all waiting patiently to be put into their final place.
As I am always late tidying the garden borders, I often plant my tulips in plant pots, particularly those varieties which I don’t expect to repeat flower, and then slot them into the border in spring. I cover these pots with some form of protection, as mice love tulips almost as much as I do. I try to plant those tulips that may flower again 8” deep in the ground. This depth of planting helps stop the tulips from producing offsets which will reduce the plants flower power in future years.
I buy tulips from Parker Bulbs, Jacques Armand, Sarah Raven (expensive!) and also my local garden centre – there’s really no excuse for not stocking up!!