Its Tulip Time – I know that Tulips have been flowering for a while however there are still some late flowering varieties that will take us through to mid May, even the end of May if we are lucky. By then the Alliums will be ready to take over from the Tulips, sprouting their structural flowers before it all really kicks off in June.
Tulips are perhaps one of the most recognisable garden plants and have been cultivated since the 13th Century for their showy flowers. They are indigenous to mountainous areas, need a period of cool dormancy and thrive in temperate climates with long, cool springs and dry summers. Whether used in formal or informal beds and borders, Tulips make ideal plants to be combined with all types of planting. They can also be useful for containers and some varieties can be naturalised in grass. Tulips grow best in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun, sheltered from strong winds. All dislike excessively wet conditions.
Tulips are divided into 15 divisions chiefly defined by their flower characteristics, broadly speaking, their flowers can be described as single or double; cup-shaped, bowl-shaped or goblet-shaped; fringed, parrot or lily-flowered; long, slender or star-shaped. There are six garden-worthy types of May-flowering Tulips: single late; lily-flowered; fringed; viridiflora; parrot; and double late. Heights vary but most fringed, viridiflora and double late Tulips are slightly shorter than single late and lily-flowered types. However, the array of Tulip cultivars and selections available to the gardener is vast and ‘Tulipomania’, the Tulip-collecting fever that infected Holland and large parts of Northern Europe during the 17th century, is well documented.
There has been a resurgence of interest in species Tulips, going back to the “unimproved” forms of our garden flowers. They are best adapted to their native mountain gorges and rocky slopes but many are suitable for pot cultivation or as rockery plants and are becoming more readily available from commercial suppliers. Although species Tulips are generally much smaller than their bolder garden hybrids, they still pack a punch and hold their own in the garden.
Some of my favourite varieties include Ballerina (pictured), Spring Green, Havran, White Triumphator and Ronaldo. Ballerina makes a great combination with Queen of the Night or dolls minuet, while Spring Green and White Triumphator make a statement as they stand alone. Havran works well with Atilla and Lydia, while Ronaldo and Jimmy are perfect partners too. I am a big fan of seasonal pots using a combination of Daffs and Tulips to extend the season but also love to see Tulips drifted through the border amongst the emerging herbaceous plants. Tulips are great for bridging the gap between the early spring flowers and the flush of flower that arrives in June. Planting Tulip bulbs in the autumn, mixed with Daffs and Alliums, will help to ensure that there are not any dull moments in your planting scheme from spring right the way through to the summer.