Bulbs are a great way to improve any garden, and it’s not too late to plant Tulips.
Above: Tulips along the edge of the lake in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. (Image: www.intltravelnews.com)
If you’re already looking forward to the garden coming back to life in Spring, but think you’ve left it too late to do anything about it, think again! A good garden design almost always includes bulbs, as they can add interest when not much else does. They’re also invaluable for those with limited space, or simply enjoy container gardening.
The best time for planting Tulips is after Bonfire night, but before Christmas, which provides us with a pretty big window of opportunity. But there are many accounts of a January (or even later) planting still being fine so there is still time – just – to do it now. Tulips are actually best planted after a frost, so a bit later than some other Spring flowering bulbs. A frost can help kill the spores of Tulip Fire, which ruins Tulips, and prevents you from replanting any more in the same area for the next few years.
So, the only reason not to plant bulbs now is if the ground is frozen and unworkable, or waterlogged, otherwise we’re good to go. (Feeling a bit hypocritical, as I look out of the window, where I can see most of Bingley and Baildon, things look frozen solid. I reckon it’ll melt again so we can plant some Tulips…probably…)
In both of the last two years I have planted Tulips in my own garden in early to mid December, and the only reason they didn’t all come up is because mice got to some of them first. Last year, I also planted various Alliums at the same time, and whilst early Autumn is often suggested as the right time to plant Allliums, they all came up ok and none seemed to suffer from the late planting.
The only problem you might face now is a lack of availability, as many suppliers do sell out quite quickly. www.peternyssen.com and www.gee-tee.co.uk both have great ranges, and as of writing this, still have some good selections left. Also, some suppliers offer good deals on bulbs when it gets this late in the season.
How many Tulips to plant?
You almost always need more than you think, and 60 Tulips per square meter is about right. Plant Tulips in good groups, in between perennial plants, scattering them at random and planting them where they land. Plant deep (20cm or more if you can) and add grit to the holes if the soil is heavy. If planting in a container, they can be pretty tightly packed together, and layered for an even denser display. In a container, use a well-draining mix of a loam-based or multi-purpose compost and grit. Top dressing the containers with grit is also a good idea.
Above: Volunteers at RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate, planting Tulip bulbs. The Tulips aren’t treated as a permanent display in that area, so are probably planted more densely than they would otherwise be, but this shows how many Tulips will thrive for at least one season in an area. (Image: RHS)
Below, another RHS Harlow Carr example. A huge amount of Tulip bulbs must have been planted to achieve this density, most likely in several layers.
Container planting provides the opportunity to experiment with different combinations each year, and you can plant them out in the garden once they have finished flowering. They may come back ok the following year, but some will just fade away, so don’t rely on them.
Which Tulips to choose?
With such a huge range available, there is an almost infinite number of combinations. I quite like to keep my selections fairly simple and limited to a few varieties per area, but that’s just my preference. Plant a selection for a succession of flowering by combining earlier and later flowering varieties, or have a more coordinated all-out display of Tulips which flower simultaneously.
For permanency if planted in the garden, some Tulips are regarded to be more perennial than others. I have found Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ to be good so far, and it mixes well with a wide range of other Tulips. Tulip ‘Ballerina’ has also come back year after year, but seems to be a real target for mice.
Above: Tulip ‘Spring Green’ with the dark purple Tulip ‘Ronaldo’, with Euphorbia x martinii in my front garden.
Above: Tulip ‘Spring Green’ and Tulip ‘Merlot’ in a container, in front of a fragrant, evergreen Mexican orange blossom, Choisya x dewitteana ‘White Dazzler’
I’ve replaced the Tulips in the container above with a new combination this year, one which will go with the existing Tulips I have in the borders, but this time with a combination of Double, Late-Flowering Tulips. The choice was inspired by a great photo of this same selection of Tulips in a vase, in Gardens Illustrated magazine earlier this year. Hopefully I’ve planted enough to cut some for inside the house as well!
Above: L-R – Tulip ‘Black Hero’, Tulip ‘La Belle Epoque’, Tulip ‘Antraciet’. All are late-flowering double Tulips. Photos courtesy of www.peternyssen.com
More useful information about Tulips
As well as a nice selection of Tulips (and seeds, other bulbs, plants etc) Sarah Raven’s website has some handy, downloadable guides to planting seeds and bulbs: https://www.sarahraven.com/customer/booklets
Val Bourne’s article in the Telegraph lists her top 10 perennial Tulips http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningadvice/10803633/10-best-perennial-tulips.html
The Frustrated Gardener’s blog always has amazing photography and has loads of inspiration for container planting and Tulips, this is his list of perfect 10 Tulips https://frustratedgardener.com/2017/05/07/my-perfect-ten-tulips/
The RHS have information about Tulip Fire here https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=252