Plant tulips too early and there is more time for things to go wrong. Since each bulb already contains its flower all that is needed is to give them a chance to send out some roots, experience the cold of winter and not let them dry out – the result is a guarantee of flowers next spring.
The longer a tulip sits in the ground the greater is the chance that it will be infected by fungus or virus, and if they grow too quickly and emerge from the soil before the last frosts occur they run the risk of being damaged. Any time between now and Christmas is therefore, the best time to plant them.
I am not going to offer you an endless list of wonderful species and cultivars to grow, but name just three to inspire you and illustrate the different ways and reasons for growing them.
Tulipa praestans is a small wild tulip available in a number of named selections, but all are fairly similar; you will probably be offered ‘Fusilier’, but whether this is the true cultivar or an impostor does not really matter – they are all good.
This little tulip is one of the first to flower and that is why you need to grow it. Its bright orange flowers appear in bunches of up to five per bulb at a time of the year that nothing else can compete. You must plant it deep and if the site is well drained and sunny, it stands a very good chance of surviving for more than just its first season. You want this jewel to make an impact and so must plant nothing less than a hundred bulbs. Spread them through your perennial borders far and wide. The advantage these low, early growers have over the more common tulip cultivars is that their dull foliage quickly disappears amongst their neighbour’s foliage as spring unfolds.
The next tulip you are going to plant is an outrageous Parrot Group tulip cultivar. The most dramatic I know is ‘Green Wave’ a mutated Parrot form of the very beautiful Viridiflora Tulip – ‘Groenland’. Its contorted petals are a medley of white, pink and apple green. This is not a garden tulip; you must grow it in a large pot which you position outside the kitchen window. As these prima donnas come into flower their flowers weigh down the stems and then rise up again in a performance comparable with the most elegant slow-motion ballet you could possibly imagine.
Finally, do not let others deride Darwinhybrid Group tulips simply because they are the workhorses of city park’s department superintendents. Yes, they are bold and big, but they are also one of the most robust groups of tulips for general planting in the garden. In reasonable soil they are almost guaranteed to reappear year on year unlike the majority of the fashionable Triumph Group bedding varieties.
My first choice here is ‘Daydream’; to say that it is orange is hardly to do it justice. When the flowers first open they are clear yellow, but over a period of two to three days they darken into a warm orange glow that goes on to become radiant when backlit. These Darwinhybrids flower in mid spring when border perennials are growing up quickly and their vigour and height enables them to stand out. As always, spread these tulips far and wide throughout your perennial borders rather than mass planting them. In the perennial meadow these are one of the most important complementary plants to use to kick start your planting scheme.
Be warned, once you learn about the different types of tulips and the many roles they can play in your life your bank manager will never be your friend ever again.