Six on Saturday: Tulip mania

This week has been all about the tulips.

1. First tulip

It all started with this very first perfectly formed specimen flushed with a delicate pink.

First tulip 2020

2. Radiant blooms

As more tulips started to open, and the sun shone, the garden basked in the radiance of their blooms.

Radiant tulips

3. Fabulous colour combos

Some of the colour combinations have been simply divine. Here, the deep burgundy satin blooms of Havran stood tall over the red-crimson petals of Couleur Cardinal and the sunset colours of Prinses Irene.

Tulip colour combinations

4. Inner beauty

On closer inspection, as the tulips unfolded, the insides revealed a further hereto hidden inner beauty.

Hidden beauty inside tulips

5. My favourite tulip

It was hard to choose, but Slawa came out the winner this year for sheer wow factor. A deep rich burgundy edged with apricot, all in one perfect goblet-shaped bloom.

My favourite tulip, Slawa

6. Tulip tableau

The stage was set, and all that planting earlier in the year did not disappoint. The tulips have been an absolute joy, particularly at a time when I have needed cheering up. And I wanted to share it with you …

Tulip tableau

Early bloomers

Something fabulous is happening in the garden this month. Small but exquisite blooms are bursting from the ground, providing much-needed pollen and nectar for early emerging pollinators. A walk around the garden reveals the wonders that have inspired great poets. I’ll let them do the talking …

Winter aconite

February-aconite
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), the very first of the Spring bloomers.

‘Tis the first blossom that the year hath seen,
This little globe of yellow’s brightest shade,
As though upon a nest of scanty green
A fairy bird its magic egg has laid.
Almost the smallest flower the garden grows,
And yet a flower when not another blows.

– ‘Winter Aconit’, Robert Henry Forster, 1867–1923

Snowdrop

February-snowdrops
Snowdrops (Galanthus species) are a clear sign that winter is waning.

LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
– To a snowdrop, William Wordsworth, 1770–1850

Iris

February-iris
Irises are the showiest of blooms at this time of year. Aptly, ‘Iris’ is the Greek word for rainbow.

A wonder! Bow and rainbow as it bent,
Instead of moving with us as we went
(To keep the pots of gold from being found),
It lifted from its dewy pediment
Its two mote-swimming many-colored ends
And gathered them together in a ring.

– Iris by Night, Robert Frost, 1874–1963

Crocus

February-crocus
The gentle lavender blooms and exotic saffron stigmas of crocuses are a cheery sight on a cold winter’s day. They look fragile, but are remarkably resilient.

Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.

… In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.

– The Crocus, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811–1896

What inspiration awaits in your garden this month?

Planting tulips in January

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m late doing everything, and getting bulbs in at the right time is no exception. While daffodils (narcissi) are generally better planted in late autumn, I know from experience that tulip bulbs will still produce a decent display if planted in January. So, if you’ve got some tulip bulbs lurking in a paper bag at the back of the shed, get them in – now!

Venetian tulip collection - a very classy combination of colours
Tulips planted in January can still produce a vibrant display in April/May.

WANTED: cold conditions

Tulip bulbs need a period of chilling to break their dormancy, so now is a pretty good time to get them in. Indeed, it is best to plant tulip bulbs when the temperature has dropped as it reduces the risk of tulip fire – a fungal disease that thrives in warm damp conditions.

Given how wet and mild November and December have been this year, now might even be the optimal time to plant your tulip bulbs, as a cold snap will help to wipe out any fungal disease lurking in the soil.

Healthy bulbs

Tulips grow best in fertile well-drained soil in full sun. Only plant bulbs that are in good condition. If they are soft or going a bit mouldy, bin them.

Good drainage

If, like me, you are planting the tulips in pots, start by covering the bottom of the pot with some broken crockery, gravel or other material to aid drainage.

pot-drainage
Add a layer of drainage material to the bottom of your pot.

Soil preparation is important. If planting in the ground, add sharp sand or grit to break up heavy soils and lots of organic matter to improve the structure. I filled my pots to about two-thirds full with a general compost mixed with vermiculite and Growmore.

soil-drainage
Add horticultural grit or vermiculite to potting compost for good drainage.

Bulb spacing

Plant your bulbs pointy end up. They can be planted quite close together in pots as long as the bulbs don’t touch each other. In the ground, you are best planting to at least twice the bulb’s width apart. The depth should be two or three times the height of the bulb.

potted-tulip-bulbs
Arrange your bulbs in your pot close together but not touching.

Finally, cover with compost to just below the rim of the pot and water. Keep pots well watered but not too wet or the bulbs will rot.

Spring display

All being well you will be rewarded with a vibrant display of colour in April or May.

Tulip-display
Plant bulbs now and be rewarded in April/May with pots of colour.