Investing in Spring
Bright, bold and
beautiful, tulips are a must for perking up your garden
in spring. Self-confessed tulip addict Stephen Anderton
casts his eye over the incredible range of colours and
People say tulips are easy to grow. But easy is not
the right word. With tulips there is nothing to do -
nothing to be easy - except plant them. It’s like
buying a rail ticket from a machine. In goes the money
and out comes the ticket. In goes the bulb
and up comes the flower. It is such a simple transaction
that gardeners should be generous with tulips almost
more than any flower.
Think what you can do with them. You can plant dwarf
species like Tulipa
and biflora to brighten up a rockery or the edge of
You can plant the taller ones in amongst herbaceous
plants to bring an early peak of colour to a mixed border,
long before most summer perennials
are strutting their stuff. You can even play at making
colour combinations between tulips and other early flowers.
Imagine white tulips amongst variegated
honesty, or the orangey-bronze flowers of ‘Abu
Hassan’ amongst the new spearing foliage of plummy
And tulips come in
all kinds of shapes. There are the classic, demure,
incurved shapes, like the cap of a Madonna. There are
tulips like ‘West
Point’ and ‘White
Triumphator’ which have long elegant petals
arching outward and upward. There are striped tulips
and parrots, and even multi-headed tulips, each one
a ready-made bunch of blooms. There are earlies, and
mid seasons and lates, and if the truth be told, a tulip
lover could have them in bloom from the first days of
March until late May.
Why have a busload of dumpy hausfrau hyacinths when
you could have a choir of elegant delicate tulips? You’ll
say the hyacinths are perfumed perhaps? Well, you are
right. By and large tulips have no perfume to speak
of. But I can live without that, when they offer so
much else. Who’d run off with a hausfrau just
because she smelled good?
For a less formal look you can plant tulips in a dozen
different colours into rough grass. They will not look
natural but they will dazzle, in a meadowy, star-spangled
way. You might want to plant just one vivid variety
through long grass, to tone with early rhododendrons,
or primulas. Gardeners with little courage and bags
of good taste might use ‘Spring
Green’, as it’s a quiet mixture of green
and white. The real purists, or those who want tulips
to look more natural than this, might plant the late
sprengeri, to self seed through borders and shrubberies,
followed in due season by those pale, gherkin-like pods,
full of shining seed.
What price all this generosity of flower? All you have
to do is plant the bulbs, now. November is just the
right time, and you can often snap up some bargains
at this stage of the season. Plant them deep, a good
6-8 inches down, and they will come up year after year,
even in grass, unless you are on heavy clay
soil. When they start to dwindle, buy some more.
They are cheap enough.
My only trouble with
tulips has been mice, which seem to be able to smell
them there under the surface. If they are shallowly
and newly planted amongst the roots of other plants,
mice can tunnel down and eat them. The knack to avoid
this is either to plant so deep the mice can't get down
there, or to plant only into freshly-dug loose soil,
into which they find it dangerous and impracticable
to dig down. What price a tulip, if you end up buried
nose down in 6 inches of loose earth?
If you live on boggy land or in slug heaven, tulips
can be tricky too. This is not the place to try growing
them in rough grass. They succumb here all the faster.
Where slugs are at home on the range it’s better
to go for bulbs that they dislike, such as bluebells.
For the rest of us, which is most of us, tulips are
one of the great dividends of spring. So invest a little
now. Set up a nest egg for next year.
Find out more about tulips in our Essential
See also the Helping Hands workshops:
bulbs in earth
bulbs in grass
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reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com