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The very first tulips to appear in my garden are the yellow species tulips, Tulipa sylvestris. These are planted in the grass verge beneath a sunny hornbeam hedge and grow back happily each spring, flowering in mid- to late-March with lovely buttercup-yellow loose petals on floppy stems despite the bulbs growing right in among the hornbeam roots on very wet soil. I suspect that the sunny aspect helps and that the hedge is taking up most of the moisture so stopping the bulbs rotting.

Among them are some T. saxatilis (right) which have mauve petals with yellow centres as they open out in the sun. ‘Lady Jane’ is a small tulip that looks and behaves just like a species type and I have this planted in my white garden. When it is closed it is pure white but in the sunshine it opens to reveal a delicate pale-pink interior. I have planted it beneath apple trees with the intention of echoing the apple blossom – although this cold spring the tulips were over before the blossom arrived.

The other species tulip that I have in the garden is the rather more spectacula­r T. acuminata, which grows with a twist to the petals that are a flaming vermilion and yellow. This will flower towards the end of April – after the last of the

T. sylvestris have faded. But most species tulips flower early and are shorter and simpler than the more opulent hybrids. They have a simplicity and charm I like more and more, and if you want to see a really good collection go along to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden from February through to the latter part of May.

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