You will find that most articles written about Tulips are published in the autumn, this is because it is when we plant our bulbs. We often buy them on a whim, plant them where there’s a gap and then forget all about them until they start to grow through the middle of a shrub or a clump of perennial foliage. NOW is the time to plan for new tulips. NOW is the time to take a critical look at gaps in the garden and NOW is the time to study the different varieties and colours of tulips to ensure that in the autumn you plant the right ones. Some gardens that are open to the public specialise in spring bulbs. One of my favourites is Chenies House between Amersham and Rickmansworth. www.cheniesmanorhouse.co.uk/ It’s certainly worth going along and making a note of the ones that you like the best.
Writer Anna Pavord author of ‘The Tulip’ has written many articles on this very historic and interesting bulb. If you have the time take a look at the history of the Tulip it will amaze you. Her favourite tulip is Tulipa orphanidea Whittallii Group, a cumbersome name for the most gorgeous tulip that she’s ever grown, this species tulip has burnt-orange flowers that are stained brown at the centre.
Sarah Raven has several tulips that she recommends to give a succession of flowers and colour from March until June: The earliest tulips are usually Tulipa biflora, maybe a week earlier than T. turkestanica but to start with she suggests the Fosteriana varieties, ‘Purissima’ and ‘Orange Emperor’ and says of these that she hasn’t yet discovered any more lovable earlier tulip. Next she would use ‘Prinses Irene’ and ‘Couleur Cardinal’. These are both classed as single-early tulips. They begin flowering in early April and excel in their length of flowering, keeping going for longer than most tulips they also have good foliage which is green washed with a lovely copper blue.
The next group are the triumph tulips that include the best of the beautiful deep reds. She loves the wine-coloured ‘Jan Reus’ that flowers by the middle of April, closely followed by the almost-black ‘Queen of Night’ (one that I regularly use) and ‘Havran’ which is a spectacular blackcurrant colour with up to three flowers per stem and a smoky wash on the outer petals.
I’m still not completely sold on the Parrot tulips but they do flower in the middle of spring, Sarah likes the red, green and gold stippled ‘Rococo’; she follows this with the sweetly scented brilliant orange ‘Ballerina’. This is tall, with pointy-tipped petals and slim, elegant, haughty-looking flowers. This flowers at the same time as, and can be mixed with, ‘Black Hero’ (a double late), a tall, stately variety that looks just like a peony flowering in the middle of spring.
At about this time other lily-flowered tulips come into their own; ‘Doll’s Minuet’ is a beautiful viridiflora tulip with deep pinky-red, pointy petals that are lightly flushed with green and that flare outwards at the top of the flower. It is highly prized for its unusual colouring and slender petalled, spidery blooms that have a really interesting silhouette. The lovely green-splashed viridifloras are among the last to flower and these seem to be the longest-lasting group in the garden, coming up in corners where they’ve been left undisturbed. The designers favourite is ‘Spring Green’, an elegant tulip with broad, white, slightly feathered petals each with a bright green central band. It looks particularly lovely teamed with silver foliaged plants or with other tulips, especially the dark plum coloured varieties.
Finally ’Orange Favourite’ is a bright and showy, feathered tulip with markings of green combined with different shades of orange. A truly opulent and fragrant flower.
With this planning you can have a succession of tulips flowering for several months but if you have a shady garden it can be tricky as they do prefer warm, sunny spots. Tulipa sprengeri is the answer, it will grow happily in grass and can look wonderful under shrubs. It grows in the shade, does not mind moist soil and will even self-sow, naturalising if it is happy.
So plan now, make out your shopping list and put it in a safe place ready to buy the right bulbs in September / October.