Tulip Order

They are early this year, but Tulipa sprengeri are flowering in the garden and this marks the end of the tulip flowering season.

Tulipa sprengeri

Tulipa sprengeri

There is no better time to plan your bulb order than now whilst the memories of the past season’s bulb displays are fresh in your mind. In my earlier post I showed how well the red tulips had worked dotted amongst my masses of emerging perennials. Most of these red tulips were Darwinhybrid Group tulips which are amongst the most likely to return of the many  types that we can grow. In these borders I plan to add more of the reds as well as some glowing orange tulips to extend next year’s display.

Orange tulipsRepetition and large numbers of the same varieties and colours are the way to create the most impact with your tulips. Never buy less than thirty of anything; I mostly order a hundred of each variety and limit the selection to five or six varieties. Each when flowering will have a vivid impact  and, if well selected, their season will be long with early, mid-season as well as late varieties flowering in sequence.

Purple tulipsYou need not limit yourself to a single colour. The central area of my garden will be red and orange next year, but I have one border in which over the years I have played with different mixtures of violet, purple and lilac flowering cultivars. In another small border I use mainly pink varieties with just a few darker coloured cultivars such as mid-season flowering Tulip ‘Jan Reus’ and the later flowering Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ for touches of contrast.

Tulip 'Prins Willam-Alexander'Tulips look fantastic in pots, but these are best when used as focal points within the garden’s planting schemes. When they are dotted amongst other plants in wide drifts they have greater impact in a far less formal manner.

tulip gardenIf you are interested in getting the most out of tulips you should really try and get hold of a copy of my book – Gardening with Tulips by Michael King. The book is comprehensive in its coverage with an emphasis on planting design. History is summarised as a means of explaining the current assortment offered today. I cover twenty different groups of tulips each offering a specific set of features that allow us to carefully integrate them into planting schemes. The hundreds of species and cultivars illustrated and discussed in the book are only just the tip of what is available to adventurous gardeners.

Plan your tulip order this weekend and send it in as soon as the catalogues arrive.

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Shrubs with Perennials

Flowering ShrubsShrubs are at their most useful when they bring height and flower colour to those gardens dominated by perennials. This is the case in my own gardens in early summer.

Flowering ShrubsI try to select shrubs that will sit high and command the borders in which they grow.

Shrubs in early summerBy late summer those that once drew all the attention may vanish into the background  behind tall-growing, bulky perennials, but in spring and early summer they are indispensable.

Flowering ShrubsInspired by the dominant leaf colour of my neighbour’s purple leafed hazel I have also added to the garden a number of other shrubs with bold purple foliage.

Purple leaved shrubsThe two Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’  on the left will eventually rival the hazel tree in stature whilst the various forms of delicate maples add variety to this purple foliage theme in other areas of the garden.

Purple leaved shrubs

If you want to learn more about my ideas of how to combine shrubs and perennials please check out my eBook on Shrub Features which I put together a couple of years ago for gardeners interested in naturalistic planting.


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A small geranium to complement your planting schemes in a big way

Geranium tuberosumI have just discovered that it was back in 2012 when I last wrote about Geranium tuberosum. Inspired by what I have just seem in the garden, my plan was to write something similar now, but having reread my earlier effort, I have decided to save time and repost it below.

You may ask, “why all the fuss about a low-growing ephemeral perennial that only flowers for about three weeks and then shrivels up and disappears until the following year”? Well the point is that it flowers now, earlier than the others and before doing so has furnished the ground with a soft green blanket of foliage for many weeks. Geranium tuberosum is a good example of the plants I add to my planting schemes to bring interest at those times of the year when the leading theme plants are not at their flowering peaks; this is mainly in spring, early summer and/or autumn.

Geranium tuberosumThis week the little geranium is popping up everywhere amongst mounds of fast growing perennials filling the borders with the colour blue. Yes, I could have forget-me-nots, bluebells or brunner, which I do in other placed, but they all come with drawbacks; this geranium simply vanishes when its job has been done, leaving the area free for other plants to take over the space.

Geranium tuberosaFor those who missed it the first time here is the original post. And maybe some of the other plants that appear in the Top Perennials section of the web site will be of interest to you as well.



Geranium tuberosum

Geranium tuberosumOver time we all develop a list of plants that we know we can rely upon and which will grow well in various situations. Some designers end up using the same plants in every garden and proudly call them their signature plants!

The characteristics often stated for a top perennial are not the only ones to consider as it should be their usefullnes within a total design that counts. Top perennials are said to be those that look “good” before they come into flower, flower over a long season and then remain looking good when going to seed or even when dead. It is these features that characterise the plants I like to call theme plants.

Hopefully anyone following this blog for a while will have worked their way through the Meadows 101 section and know that theme plants alone cannot make a successful perennial planting scheme; we need complementaries to extend the scheme’s season of interest and to break up the monotony that can too easily develop in repetitive mixed perennial meadow schemes.

Geranium tuberosun does not qualify as a top perennial when considered using the standard criteria. It is low-growing and the flowering season is short; three weeks tops. And when Geranium tuberosum finishes flowering it dies back to remain dormant for the rest of the year. However, it is one of my top perennials as it flowers at just the right moment in my flower borders.

Geranium tuberosum with Euphorbia pallustris

Geranium tuberosum with Euphorbia pallustris and Thermopsis

The foliage of this humble perennial appears early in spring and can make an effective setting for spring bulbs if present in sufficient numbers. But what matters for me is that just as the last of the tulips fade and the early euphorbias come into flower, its lavender blue flowers pop up randomly in between its neighbours. In what I call the patio border this coincides with the flowering of Thermopsis, another valuable complementary plant that resembles a delicate lemon yellow lupin. The geranium’s flowers contrast with the yellows surrounding it and it is a perfect match for the cascade of Wisteria ‘Caroline’ hanging overhead.

Wisteria 'Caroline'

Wisteria ‘Caroline’

If Geranium tuberosum flowered in summer it would not be worth bothering with, but for late spring it is definitely one of my top perennials – and, yes, I would probably go on to call it one of my signature plants.

If you found this interesting, you might also appreciate what I wrote about so-called ephemeral perennials here.

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Community Planting

Mixed PerennialsHere is the small border at the entrance to my trial gardens in Amsterdam. It has been the same for more than ten years and requires less than an hours maintenance per year.

Plants live together in communities sharing the same space and resources. Over time conditions change and when this happens, it will favour one of them more than the others. The community adapts and maybe one species becomes more evident than others, but together they coexist, each finding a niche within the total community by taking advantage of a specific aspect of the available resources and thereby maintaining their position within it.

Mixed PerennialsWhen designing a so-called naturalistic planting scheme, our aim is to create a community of plants in which the balance between its different components is retained over time. Over time maybe one species will grow strong at the expense of its neighbours and, as designers, we will realise that our original mixture of plants was not so perfectly balanced as we had hoped. We have just two choices here: either we replant the weaker species each year to maintain the visualised design, or we accept the adapting mix of species and follow its progress for as long as it still fulfils our general design objectives.

Mixed PerennialsMy entrance border has been used over the years for trialling many plants. I also added some trees and large growing shrubs which over time have dramatically altered the available growing conditions there. Today this border has reached a sort of equilibrium in which what grows there can grow there as long as I, as the gardener, take certain steps each year to maintain the look I find acceptable.

Mixed PerennialsIn this specific case a mix of tough ground-covering perennials and bulbs have found their niche in the dry soil amongst the roots of the shrubs and trees, but there is one exception. A wild aster had seeded itself into this border many years ago. In flower this aster is tall and airily attractive, but it is an aggressive spreader, both by seed and root. In a fertile garden border such a plant would become an intolerable weed, but here it must fight for its existence. Inevitably though it is stronger growing than its neighbours and this is where I as the gardener come in. In mid summer I walk through the border and remove by pulling most of its stems, leaving just a few at the rear of the border to flower. Again in early winter I give this border its annual tidy-up and rigorously pull up every one of the aster’s stems; what remains are the roots which facilitate its reappearance the following spring.

Naturalistic garden borders are not wild plant communities, but rather artificially conceived evocations of nature. As designers and then gardeners the ways we manage them will determine their aesthetic appeal. In the case of my entrance border, were I to allow the aster its freedom it would come to dominate the ground layer at the expense of its more attractive neighbours.

Mixed PerennialsUnderstanding how plant communities adapt and evolve over time is crucial to establishing successful naturalistic planting schemes including both mixtures of perennials and also trees and shrubs.

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Red Tulips when needed

Red Darwin tulipsNaturalistic planting and especially the prairie planting variant can look very flat and green in spring. Often these schemes are filled with perennials that flower in summer and look wonderful with ornamental grasses, but in spring they are green.

Red Darwin tulipsRed is the complementary colour to green and tulips are one of the ways to introduce it into the spring garden. The strong contrast of these two colours means that a few red tulips go a long way to adding that wow factor to a mixed perennial meadow scheme in spring that might otherwise look overtly green.

Red Darwin tulipsIn my earlier post I showed how my trial garden needed an extra boost at this time of the year following repeated attacks by mice and voles- here .

Last autumn I planted groups of twenty, widely-spaced tulips in some of the garden’s borders. Had mice not eaten some, the effect would be better, but even so, they have made an impact.

Red Darwin tulipsCrown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) are said to deter rodents and in the few places I have combined them this year, it seems to have worked. This is far from a conclusive trial as there are also borders where without the Crown Imperials the tulips have been left alone and are now flowering. But next year I will press on with the trial and hopefully extend the area planted.

Red Darwin tulipsI love other colours of tulips, but for this time I have used only red. Darwinhybrid Group tulips are the most persistent and bold. ‘Red Impression’ is an exceptionally early flowerer in this group and these were planted in the same hole as ‘Parade’ which is almost identical, but flowers two weeks later. Other borders contain finer tulips such as rich crimson ‘Jan van Zanten’ and the maroon and gold stars of ‘Aladdin’, but these are not likely to return and will need to be replanted each year.

Red Darwin tulipsIf I can solve my mice/vole problem I will return to the full range of tulips in many colours from the very early, jewel-like flowerers through to the dramatic, tall Single Late Group, but for now just a few bold red flowers have made a great improvement to my spring garden.

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