A Tulip for Every Garden Space
November is the perfect time of year to plant tulip bulbs. Read my three page feature in Garden News magazine and discover a tulip for every garden space!
Was absolutely thrilled to have not one BUT TWO features in this edition of Garden News, spanning five pages! Click the link to read my other feature 'Make room for magical moss.'
Tulips burst into our gardens in spring with a kaleidoscope of colour. A symbol of love, these symmetrical beauties evoke delight and with over 3000 varieties and 150 species to choose from there really is a tulip for every spot in the garden!
Containers come in all shapes and sizes from elegant terracotta and glazed pots to large galvanised steel planters and recycled bathtubs. Let your imagination run wild, the possibilities are endless. There is a container and tulip to suit every style and situation. Line the base with gravel for drainage and fill with peat-free compost.
Recycle furniture such as a Belfast sink or chest of drawers, an old watering can or wheelbarrow. Anything goes as long as there are drainage holes. Most tulips grow well in pots just be mindful of tulip height in relation to pot size. For an extended display choose tulips that flower at different times. A pot of ‘Early Harvest,’ ‘Yellow Emperor’ and ‘Apeldoorn’ will bloom from March – May.
Containers are portable so you can move them when the foliage fades and keep your garden looking fresh.
When space is at a premium utilise every opportunity. Window boxes are a great way to add colour to balconies, terraces or sheds. Dwarf tulips are a perfect choice for window boxes and small pots. ‘Red Hiding Hood’ not only has stunning scarlet flowers but fascinating grey-green mottled purple foliage.
Rockeries provide a natural barrier from many pests. Badgers, squirrels and deer will struggle to dig up bulbs between stones; slugs and snails may find the rough surface a challenging habitat to navigate. Rockeries have excellent drainage and weather protection and less soil means fewer weeds so low maintenance.
Tulips are an easy way to add colour and a little height between rocks. Petite T. batalinii ‘Bright Gem’ or ‘Bronze Charm’ are ideal at 15cm tall as are T. humilis. ‘Persian Pearl’ and ‘Helene’ maybe small but their pretty star-like flowers shine. T. bakerii ‘Lilac Wonder’ is also a compact flower which mixes well with various colour combinations.
Tulips inject a spectacular streak of colour into a border. Plant in groups for maximum impact. These drifts will lead your eye through the border and look wonderful set against evergreen shrubs. Try Emperor tulips, which are impressive planted in large swathes. Experiment with colour combinations; try a monochrome look with near black ‘Paul Scherer’ and ‘White Dream’ or a feature colour like shocking pink ‘Night Club.’
It is tempting to methodically place each tulip bulb individually but nature is not so contrived. When planting, scatter bulbs so they fall randomly then plant where they fall. T. clusiana var chrysantha, 'Peppermintstick' and ‘Lady Jane’ naturalise well in lawns as does T. bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ and wild native T. sylvestris. These plants rapidly spread and create colourful groundcover.
Top tips for top tulips
Plant tulip bulbs in November, the cooler temperatures help prevent the spread of Botrytis tulipae the fungus that causes Tulip Fire Disease.
Tulips thrive in sunny, sheltered spots in well-drained soil.
Prep soil by removing weeds. Ensure good drainage in pots and use peat-free compost. In heavy clay areas add grit, as bulbs will rot if sat in water.
Avoid shallow planting to protect from frost and being dug up by inquisitive, hungry wildlife.
Use a bulb planter or thin rockery trowel to plant bulbs, this avoids disturbing the surrounding soil.
Dig a hole three times bulb length. Planting deep promotes better flowering.
Select firm bulbs. Discard any mouldy, soft bulbs.
Plant bulbs pointy end up.
For fantastic container displays angle bulb tips outwards from the centre.
Plant bulbs in mixed borders. As tulip foliage dies back, new herbaceous perennial growth masks unsightly dead foliage.
To ensure best displays each year, plant new bulbs.
Narrowing down what to plant can be a hard decision. Here are some suggestions to help you decide.
Divided into early and late, late singles being slightly larger than early. Bulbs produce cup-shaped flowers. Try early ‘Purple Prince’ or dramatic late single ‘Queen of Night.’ 45-75cm tall. Bloom March - May.
Early blooming Emperor tulips (Fosteriana tulips) have sturdy stems and look great planted en mass. ‘White, Orange or Yellow Emperor’ will all make a big impact. 40-45cm tall. Bloom March – April.
A cross between late singles and early Emperor tulips; Darwin hybrids are classic hardy stalwarts with sturdy stems, coupled with bright, long-lasting large petals. Try scarlet ‘Apeldoorn,’ pure white ‘Hakunn’ or salmon ‘Van Eijk.’ 25-50cm tall. Bloom April – May.
Triumph has the characteristic cup shape single blooms. Enjoy sugar pink ‘Early Glory,’ dramatic ‘Ronaldo’ and almost black ‘Paul Scherer.’ 25-60cm tall. Bloom April – May.
Fringed tulips have finely frayed petals like delicate tentacles that recurve outwards upon opening. ‘Fancy Frills,’ ‘Cummins,’ ‘Gorilla’ and ‘Honeymoon’ are stunning flowers to grow. 35-75cm tall. Bloom mid to late spring.
Parrot tulips have exotic, glamorous petals, which fan out like feathers. Grow ‘Black Parrot,’ ‘Negrita Parrot’ or the sensational ‘Estella Rijnveld.’ 35-65cm tall. Bloom April - May.
Luxurious doubles ‘Angelique,’ ‘Foxtrot,’ and ‘La Belle Époque’ have short stems and multiple petals, which change hue with age or try flamboyant striped ‘Carnaval de Nice’ or ‘Ice Cream.’ 40cm tall. Bloom late April - May.
Distinctive green flame-petalled tulips ‘Spring Green,’ ‘Twilight Princess’ and ‘Green Star’ display stripes on pale cream petals whereas ‘Orange Marmalade,’ ‘Night Rider’ and ‘Greenland’ contrast vibrant colours. 40-50cm tall. Bloom late spring.
These long, slender stems are vulnerable to wind but produce elegant arching petals. Try crimson ‘Sarah Raven,’ tangerine ‘Ballerina’ or ‘White Triumphator.’ 40-60cm tall. Blooms May.
Pointy two-toned petals sit on short stems, surrounded by beautiful foliage, often mottled purple. Try ‘Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Winnipeg,’ or ‘Pinocchio’ with red feathers, which seep through ivory edged petals. 20-30cm tall. Bloom March – April.
These large bloomed, short-stemmed perennials, also called water lily tulips, naturalise well in lawns or rockeries. ‘Early Harvest,’ ‘Ancilla’ and ‘Stresa’ are vibrantly coloured. 20-25cm tall. Bloom early spring.
These spectacular bi-coloured tulips gripped Holland with tulip mania! Boasting exquisite flame petals, try ‘Flaming Flag,’ ‘Carnaval de Rio’ and ‘Grand Perfection.’ 40-50cm tall. Bloom April – May.
T. sylvestris, T. turkestanica, T. bakeri, T. clusiana, T. humilis, T. praestans, T. tarda and T. saxatilis are all tough, un-hybridized, small tulips, which naturalise easily. Their petite size makes them perfect for pots and rockeries! 8-25cm tall. Bloom March – April.
Did you know?
Tulip petals are edible and can be used as a garnish. Sprinkle them over a salad.
In the early seventeenth century, The Golden Age, tulips took on precious stone status and became a luxury investment for affluent buyers.
At the peak of ‘tulip mania,’ bulbs cost the equivalent of a house until tulip virus took hold and the market came crashing down in 1637. They are still treasured around the world today but luckily for us, bulbs are now far more reasonable to buy!
Tulips originate from Central Asia and were wildflowers growing in mountainous regions. Their name comes from the Turkish word for turban.
All photos © Debi Holland 2021