10 of the very best tulips to plant now
For a joyful burst of springtime colour, Sarah Raven investigates the latest tulip varieties on trial in the walled garden at Parham House – and picks the best
One of the best things about gardening, once you’ve had some experience, is seeking out new varieties, those recently launched plants and bulbs which have yet to hit the mainstream. The best places to do this are leading plant nurseries, commercial show fields (like Thompson & Morgan’s in Ipswich), and trials. In trials you’ll see rows and rows of different cultivars, all from one family, some new, some old, so you can work out which you like best, and you can find out from the grower how they’ve looked and performed over the whole season.
We do amateur plant trials in my garden at Perch Hill (echinaceas, new dahlias, carrots and florists’ alstroemeria this year) and I love the whole process, but there are bigger and better places where plants are rigorously tested. These are worth seeking out if you feel like a trip.
Every year Which? Gardening carries out worthwhile trials at Capel Manor in Middlesex. They’ve done tulip collections, hydrangeas and pollinator dahlias this year.
Then, of course, there are the RHS trial fields. At Wisley in Surrey they’ve had thalictrums, agapanthus and penstemons, among many others, under their microscope in 2016. And at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, colchicums are being assessed.
I’ve recently done several visits to the trials in the walled garden at Parham House in West Sussex.
The Wisley-trained head gardener at Parham, Tom Brown, is on a quest for the best of the best, so he loves a trial. With the walled garden open most of the year (on Sundays in October), there’s almost always something interesting and impressive to see.
Last spring, I visited Tom’s trial of tulips for cutting. This time last year they planted 60 varieties of tulip in two beds with 8ft rows, packed in stripes cheek by jowl. Tom decided
Bright stripes: the tulip trial at Parham House, top; Sarah Raven picking from her own borders at Perch Hill, left