A DIFFERENT STRIPE
Most of the time I lead a rather dull life, and I
like it that way. There are days, of course, when I throw caution to the winds
and eat shredded wheat instead of toast for breakfast. There are other days
when I go for a walk at noon instead of first thing in the morning. But that is
about as dramatic as it gets.
Every once in awhile though, I long for a different
kind of life-a life full of striped tulips. The other day, while I was buying
my usual assortment of white and yellow lily-form tulip bulbs, I was struck by
a promotional picture of ‘Estella Rynveld’, an absolutely flamboyant white
parrot-type tulip licked with vivid scarlet flames. Seizing a plastic bag with
unseemly haste, I snatched up a handful of ‘Estella’ and raced off to the
checkout counter feeling slightly giddy.
Clearly I have reached the time of life when I need
something more than pastel tulips. I have decided that next spring my back
garden display is going to be a little bit gaudy, and possibly even downright
bawdy. Red, orange and yellow stripes will punctuate my rite of spring.
I am going to start with some little Kaufmanniana
Hybrid tulips, which are among the earliest bloomers. You can put them in rock
gardens, but they also look lovely at the front of the border, or on the edges
of your vegetable garden. The flashiest Kaufmanniana is undoubtedly ‘Stresa’,
which is red with yellow edges. When the sun shines on it, the petals open wide
to reveal a yellow interior daubed with scarlet.
Greigii tulips bloom in April or May, and grow to be
6-12 inches tall. They provide a double jolt of excitement because their
foliage is striped and mottled with dashes of purple. The flowers are somewhat
smaller than those of the largest tulip cultivars, but make up for that with
bright colors. The loudest of the Greigii lot include ‘Pinocchio’, which is red
with white edges, ‘Calypso’, orange-red with yellow margins and a black base,
and ‘United States’, which has orange petals, flamed scarlet and edged in
yellow. The catalog copywriter refers to this cultivar as “a conflagration of
Generally I exercise taste and discretion and stay
away from orange in the garden. In my current frame of mind however, I just
might invest in some ‘Princess Irene’ bulbs. These are orange marked with a
color that is almost purple. They are gorgeous, showy Single Early Tulips.
Since it was ‘Estella Rynveld’ that started this
madness, I will probably plant several healthy clumps of her bulbs. I could
even go a little wilder and alternate my ‘Estella’ clumps with equal size
clumps of ‘Flaming Parrot’, a huge yellow variety with scarlet flames, feathers
and stripes. Another parrot, ‘Green Wave’, would start conversations all over
the neighborhood with its green and white striped mauve petals. However, I
won’t put it too near either ‘Estella Rynveld’ or ‘Flaming Parrot’ for fear of
color clashes so severe as to be explosive, or at least indecent for a small
The lily flowering tulips have always been my
favorites, and fortunately I do not have to forgo them in order to take a walk
on the horticultural wild side. One selection, ‘Ballade’ has all the lily-form
attributes that I love-a tall graceful stem, elongated tapering buds and
lily-like blossoms-plus stunning red petals with white edges. ‘Mona Lisa’,
described as being “primrose yellow with raspberry flames,” is a good
complement to ‘Ballade’. Since both are late bloomers, they will close my gaudy
spring with a flourish.
If you are feeling inspired to bring some drama to
spring and try some of these bright, showhorse tulips, you may also be
wondering whether they will overpower the other colors in your garden. If this
is the case, you can always tone things down a bit by investing in one of those
bargain bags of tall white tulips, as well as white crocuses, hyacinths and
miniature irises. Add a few clumps of white daffodils, such as the time-honored
‘Mount Hood’, and the bright splashes of tulip color will be completely
balanced by oases of cool, rational white blooms.
I may invest in some white varieties just in case,
but at the moment all I want is brilliant color. After all, spring flowers are
like exclamations of joy leaping up from the ground. Why not make those
exclamations bright enough for everyone to see?