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 a while 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 color.”
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 suburban enclave.
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 a 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?
by E. Ginsburg