While most other bulbs have been planted and are already putting out long roots, it is still not too late to plant tulips. Tulips do not like sitting in cold wet soil so the shorter the spell spent in our damp cold ground, the better they will like it.
Too many tulips are really only good for a single year display. While they are bulbs and as such should be perennial, very many of the most beautiful varieties are more flash in the pan rather than true stayers. They might be a glorious flash but they are still a flash, giving only one guaranteed show the spring after planted. Left in the ground for a number of years, the dozen gorgeous frilled, showy ‘Black Parrots’, ‘Angeliques’ and ‘Tacomas’ that you planted, will dwindle to seven, five or even one. These are not really investment plants. Some of the simpler, Darwin types do multiply up, particularly if you plant them deeply in free draining ground, but in general, most fancy tulips that come back are really only a bonus, an extra zap of colour that will appear out of the blue here and there around the garden. A few years after the original planting scheme disappeared, a single little ‘Queen of the Night’ black tulip might show itself. So think of them as one-offs. I do replant the spent bulbs in a corner of the veg garden however, and whatever comes up, comes up and is brought into the house for life in a vase, a little bonus.
Thought of that way, when you choose tulips, think of them as a bit of short term fun. Go wild with your choices, knowing that they will not haunt you forever. This year I am trying a mix of purples, pinks and blacks which will all go together in a scrum.
I found an interesting double pink/purple called ‘Blue Diamond. it will go with the already mentioned black ‘Queen of the Night.’ In between these, there will be a smattering of dark ‘Purple Flag’. These are one of the Triumph-type tulips. Another Triumph bulb I will put into the mix is a red called, ‘Seadov.’ It has been described as cranberry red. It is not quite as tall at the others, so it will contribute an extra layer of colour when planted with the others. A mix of flower head heights bobbing about in a sea of pink, purple, red and black beckons. With all those cardinal and bishopy colours it should be all very ecclesiastical.
Apart from the double, ‘Blue Diamonds’, these are, as stated, all Triumph varieties, and as such singles. Singles are initially good for a neat smart, look. They then blow out into messier open flowers. This is like having two flowers for the price of one. With the single Triumphs too, there is always a much better chance that you will get more returnees over the years. We live in hope.
They will all go in a border from which I have - as many readers will be sick of reading – been trying to eradicate bind weed for a few years. The great thing about bulbs is that when they are finished flowering, if there are any nasty little shoots of bind weed coming up, I will happily be able to dig up the tulips, dry them off for re-planting later in the year. I can then have another go at digging out the bind weed.
The others I have planted are in pots. I think these are a mix of whites and yellows. However, I lost the labels and cannot remember what the varieties are. I did file them away some place safe, unfortunately too safe to be found in time for this years planting.
The only thing for it is to plant these in pots, so even if they are not the whites and yellows that I thought I had, they can be moved to where they will look best. This means that even if the mystery bulbs turn out to be mad orange, they will not spend next spring screaming across at the well behaved pinks and purples.
This business of losing labels goes on all the time. In a clean-out last week, the name of the pretty white cactus dahlias that have been looking good all autumn, turned up. This is a clump I left in the ground for the past two years. The label attached to the plant lost its ink and so I have not been able to identify them. But the picture label that they came with two years ago turned up as part of the shed tidy. They turned out to be ‘Playa Blanca’. The label says they should be 60cms tall. They are close to a metre. I love them.