I planted lots of tulip bulbs in the autumn. I was buying some for a clients garden and decided to get some for my own. I have planted them before and low and behold over a few years they disappear not liking the cold, claggy London clay I plant them into. Received wisdom is that you should treat tulips like annuals and replant every year. I thought this was very expensive so turned to the more reliable species tulips that will come back year after year. There are some beauties and, as I am a fangirl of Dan Pearson who recommended their use in his London garden many years ago, I bought some Tulip sylvestris and Tulip whittallii. They are more delicate than the hybrids and, in my garden, come earlier. A welcome splash of colour in the ‘hungry gap’ of the flower garden.
But last year, buying bulbs for my client, I had an urge for something more glamorous.
One hybrid that had been very reliable for me was one called Apricot Beauty. I had bought the bulbs at least 20 years ago at the Chelsea Flower Show. I had gone with my lovely mum and we had oohed and ahhed over it. It was a new introduction that year so I bought 10 bulbs. They arrived in late Autumn and as I didn’t have time to plant them immediately I put them outside in my little box bench. And promptly forgot all about them. There they were gently mouldering when I found them in the spring. Crestfallen I shoved them in a pot with a jasmine not expecting anything to happen.
Not much did happen. But year on year a few weedy flowers appeared. When we moved to our current house the pot came too and the whole kit and caboodle was planted into the bed on the terrace. This was obviously what they wanted and needed. For the next nine years they flowered and how beautiful they were. Then suddenly last year they disappeared. I think the very wet winter had done for them.
Those went into the basket. As did Dolls Minuet, Westpoint and Queen of the Night, an almost black, velvety variety and one of my favourites, Ballerina, also joined the list.
One thing about the cool spring, and particularly April, this year is that it has been great for blossom and bulbs. The early spring narcissi and fruit blossom have lasted for ever. The cold nights particularly have preserved the flowers from going over too soon.
The title of this blog is rather misleading as the species tulips were found growing wild in the Tian Shan mountains and were first cultivated in Turkey as early as 1050. They became the symbol of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. We so associate them with Holland or our temperate climate but in reality they like free-draining soil, positively gritty and love being baked in the summer when they are dormant and don’t mind the cold as long as the bulbs aren’t sitting in water or claggy clay.
So into the garden they went in very late autumn. I was waiting for it to get cold enough. If you plant the bulbs too early and it is very mild they can get tulip virus. Not want you want. In the end I got them in and waited.
The short wait was worth it. They have been glorious and have lasted and lasted, brilliant pops of colour in an otherwise rather dull April. I hope they come again next year but if not it has been worth it for the joy they have given me this spring.