Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

Love tulips?

Then there's no time to waste


They’re the last spring bulbs to plant, says Monty Don, but order them now as the best will be gone by November

After the first delicate bulbs of early spring and the pastel flush of yellow that follows with daffodils, tulips bring colour like a carnival to the garden. The earliest will start flowering at the beginning of April but the end of the month and well into May is their prime season and they span the drift from spring into summer like a pageant triumphant­ly sashaying through our parks and gardens.

Tulips have bewitched us since their introducti­on to Europe at the beginning of the 17th century when they were traded for fabulously high prices – with single bulbs going for tens of thousands of pounds – in a delirium of tulip mania. While we can now buy them at a reasonable price they still exert an almost irresistib­le fascinatio­n.

It is not just the range of colours that tulips come in, from pure white through yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, purples to the almost black ‘Queen of Night’. The petals are famously stained and streaked by viruses that add a level of subtlety and decoration to the colour and then on top of that you have the various forms from the very simple species tulips to the wonderfull­y frilled parrot tulips. Their floral goblets are carried on long elegant stems standing proud in the spring sunshine.

While most spring bulbs should be planted as soon as possible in September and certainly by the end of October, tulips are best left until November and as long as they are in the ground or container by Christmas they will reliably flower at some point in April or early May. But hurry up and order or buy your bulbs as soon as possible, as by November most of the best ones will have gone.

Before choosing your bulbs it is worth rememberin­g where tulips come from so that the ground can be properly prepared. They mainly originate from an area that now occupies Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Armenia, where they grow on shale slopes. This means that they are often snow covered in winter – which protects them from much of the cold – and have very sharp drainage so that they never sit in the wet. In the summer months they are baked by a burning sun. Your back garden may not be able to match this but you can give them as much sun as you have and – most importantl­y – do whatever you can to improve the drainage.

If you have very wet, cold soil – and I do – then it is a good idea to grow new bulbs in containers which can be positioned to best appreciate their display. The bulbs can then be lifted in due course, the pot used for something else (we use them for dahlias) and the best surviving bulbs from the containers planted into the borders. If every year you buy new bulbs for containers your garden borders will also gradually fill with tulips too.

Not all tulips flower at the same time. There are 15 divisions, roughly grouped into times of flowering, with bulbs of each group sharing

recognisab­le characteri­stics. On balance it is much easier to plant tulips of the same type and group, such as lily-flowered, triumph or parrot tulips, all together as trying to spread the display over a long flowering period is very dependent on the weather – and we all know how fickle that has become. A really dramatic, uniform performanc­e is the best way to enjoy tulips’ high drama.

Although I love almost every tulip, some I love more than others. Two of the groups consistent­ly entrance me. The first is the lily-flowered group which are the most graceful of all tulips. They all have long, narrow flowers with pointed petals that bend outwards. In sunshine they open out completely. ‘West Point’ is primrose yellow and will tolerate light shade and is very good rising above the blue mist of forget-me-nots. ‘White Triumphato­r’ is very long-lasting although it fades more messily than ‘West Point’. ‘Queen of Sheba’ is early and has a lovely, curvy swell to its hips with the burnt orange petals. ‘Ballerina’ will come a couple of weeks later, also with orange petals, but it holds itself with great poise and grace despite its party clothes.

I also adore parrot tulips with their beautifull­y flayed and tattered petals like ripped raw silk. My favourites are ‘Black Parrot’, which is the richest, deepest shade of burgundy and ‘Flaming Parrot’, which has pale yellow f lowers flamed garishly with a raspberry streak. It is not a flower for the faint-hearted – but then in truth few tulips are – most are an exuberant celebratio­n and that is their joy.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? A magnificen­t late spring display of tulips
A magnificen­t late spring display of tulips

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom