I paid a visit to the Floriade in Holland last spring. This event takes place every ten years; it’s a showcase and celebration of the Dutch horticultural industry. This year’ Floriade is just outside Venlo, near the German border, and the focus is on food production and environment. However it still had some wonderful displays of spring flowers, (especially tulips) one of the main things colour lovers visit Holland for. The last Floriade was near Amsterdam and featured more traditional mass displays of spring flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, narcissi and muscari. Although the mass spectacle of colour was absent this year, I was particularly taken with the creative mixed plantings and colour blends; almost pictorial meadows of mixed spring flowers. I would have loved to visit a few weeks later to see how the Floriade’s colour blends progressed with the season.
On the same trip I managed a visit to the Keukenhof. This is the shop window of the Dutch bulb industry. I managed to get my timing just right: sunshine and the colour at its peak. The Keukenhof is always a feast for colour lovers and I found delicious blends of colour, and plenty of varieties of spring flowers - old and new destined to become firm favourites.
The first tulip I ever bought was a single bulb of ‘Queen of Night’. For some extraordinary reason I grew it in a hyacinth glass on the windowsill of our dining room. The room certainly wasn’t too warm; it was often colder than the garden. The tulip grew to a considerable height and had to be supported against the curtains. When the bloom opened I thought it was the most wonderful thing, and I must admit that I’ve been addicted to dark tulips ever since.
One of the classic combinations of spring flowers for colour lovers is the dark, delicious Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ with the single white ‘Maureen’; the nearest thing to black and white in the tulip world. I use this as the basis for an extended purple and white palette using various shades of purple, mauve and white to create some lovely schemes. I add white narcissi and purple and white hyacinths to contribute different flower forms. I found similar schemes at the Keukenhof: clearly my planting is more influential than I thought!
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Last year I planted a client’s very large pots with layers of purple and white flowerbulbs selected to create a long flowering season. The Keukenhof uses planting in layers extensively to keep the beds and containers in flower for several weeks. You plant the later varieties deeper and the earliest nearer the surface (but at least 3 times the depth of the bulbs). ‘Queen of Night’ and ‘Maureen’ were planted in the lowest layer, to perform at the end of the season. The pure white Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and sleek red-purple ‘Negrita’ bloomed first. As soon as these two burst into flower the client decided that she had to have an “all purple and white” scheme this coming spring.
I have to say there is something about these colours together which just works. I’ll definitely include Tulip ‘Zurel’, ‘Rem’s Favourite’ or ‘Blueberry Ripple’. These are all very similar: single white tulips flamed purple from the base of the blooms. I’ll also use ‘Shirley’, a delicate single tulip with poppy-like blooms white edged with mauve, flushing mauve as the blooms age. I will also use other dark purple-black tulips: ‘Havran’, ‘Black Hero’ and ‘Café Noir’. I’ve never grown it but some gardeners are keen on ‘Paul Scherer’. I can’t resist a few white lily flowering Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’ too.
Any other suggestions from colour lovers? Are there ones that you’ve grown that fit in here and have long lasting flowers? Do let me know. I’m heading towards a blackcurrant ice cream spring!
Photography by Andy McIndoe, Elspeth Briscoe and Sue Bishop.