Tulips; A few of my favourites!

By Andy McIndoe

I raved about Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’ when I first grew it a couple of years ago. I have grown it since and each year it has been every bit as good and lasts for four weeks from the time the buds showed colour to when the petals fell.  The cup shaped blooms on strong stems are a delicious shade of toffee-copper and they are unusually fragrant.  It looked ravishing with my pots of Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’.

Tulipa 'Gavotta'While we are talking tulips for foodies have you tried Tulip ‘Gavotta’? I always refer to this as the Marmite tulip: you either love it or hate it.  It’s a savoury shade of burgundy-brown with a broad butter yellow margin to the pointed petals. Personally I love it and consider it to be a good, long-lasting tulip that fits in well amongst shrubs and perennials.

The Orange Tulip - I have grown the orange tulip, Tulip ‘Daydream’, before, and it fools me every year. Last year I had forgotten I had planted it, and seemed to remember planting the glorious pink ‘Menton’ in the pots where it emerged. I was therefore slightly horrified when these large black-eyed, golden yellow blooms opened their silky petals. However after a day or two a slight orange tint appeared, soon the blooms turned to that wonderful shining orange that ‘Daydream’ brings to the spring garden.  The flowers are large, open and a poppy-like orange tulip, and despite their delicacy they are remarkably weather resistant and long-lasting. This is an orange tulip for gardeners that don’t do orange!

Tulipa 'Menton'

Incidentally Tulip ‘Menton’ proved to be the longest lasting tulip on Blom’s exhibit at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show.  Chris Blom told me that it was the only variety that he did not change during Show week – how’s that for endurance? I’ve certainly got plenty of Tulip ‘Menton’ to plant this year!

Tulipa 'Sensual Touch'

I am not a great fan of the later flowering double tulip bulbs. I have found some rather short lived and the flowers can be heavy for the stems resulting in broken stems and heartbreak – the tulip flowering season can be an emotional time! Therefore I did not think that I would fall in love with the double flowered, frilled, soft orange Tulip ‘Sensual Touch’. However as its blooms expanded, fully double, frilled and fringed like the skirt of a can-can dancer I was convinced. It proved to be weather resistant and long-lasting.

Carnaval de Nice Sarah Raven, the Queen of the Cutting Garden, raves about Tulip ‘Carnaval de Nice’. This is a deep crimson and white stripy double creature with very globular flowers rather like those of an old rose.  I can see the appeal and have grown it.  I think it would be lovely in lead-look pots in a town garden, maybe with silver foliage.  Maybe I need convincing.

As a total contrast the lovely orange lily-flowering Tulip ‘Ballerina’ has never disappointed me with its slender, elegant blooms with pointed petals.  It is lovely in pots (I grow it with Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ for sheer, sleek, silky drama), but also excellent in the border amongst deciduous shrubs and roses.

So far I have revealed too much about my personal taste in tulips: I love the sunset shades! Whatever colour you want, if you are looking for a good, long-lasting, reliable single tulip, go for one of the ‘Impressions’.  Tulip ‘Red Impression’ is an outstanding single red with black stamens.  Plant it in a drift of forget-me-nots and it will look like poppies in a summer meadow.  At the Keukenhof last year ‘Impressions’ still featured heavily: a testament to their long-lasting qualities.

If you want something more delicate do try Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’.  This lovely species tulip is slender with grass like foliage and pencil thin buds that remind me of pink lipsticks.  The blooms open to shining white stars.  It is truly lovely planted amongst grasses or in pots with purple heucheras.

Finally my tips for a long lasting display:

In larger pots you can be clever and plant two or three layers of bulbs to get a succession of flowers. Plant the latest flowering variety deepest, and the earliest nearest to the surface.  Try and plant so that the noses of the lower layer are between the bulbs in the upper layers. However if you do not they will usually sort themselves out if you allow a little space between the bulbs.

My final tip is the most important of all when it comes to getting those blooms to last: keep the pots watered regularly when the leaves are fully developed. If the weather is cool and showery it is easy to assume that the pots are getting enough water, often they are not. Dry tulips mean short lived flowers.

I would love to hear about your experiences of growing tulips.  Which varieties will you grow again and why – do share them with other blog readers.  My next course on spring flowering bulbs starts next Saturday: 6th October – why not join me – it would be great to have you along.

Andy McIndoe

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