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Bulb catalogues are my downfall. The descriptions, the photographs, the way that they set my mind off on Spring at a time when it is beginning to become more monochrome outside.
There was a time when what is now the orchard was simply rows of tulips to sell at farmers markets. One year deer, hungry in the cold, came up from the woods in the valley and ate 4000 bulbs in a single night. I cried.
For the past couple of years I have been very restrained in my tulip purchases - a few rows for the house, a couple of dozen to brighten up the borders - and concentrated instead on planting narcissi and crocus under the plum trees in the orchard.
This year however we are back to having a proper cutting garden, in an area that hasn't grown tulips before, so I went on a little bit of a splurge.
I garden on pretty heavy soil and the weather in the west of Scotland is very wet in the winter so we are not the ideal climate for tulips - 15 years of growing tulips has however shown which varieties come back year after year and which are single year show stoppers.
The first is down the side of the central path between the existing and the new productive gardens. It is long and narrow bed under a row of espalier apple trees (currently looking more like twigs if I am honest). I do not want to have to completely replant this every year - I need there to be a good existing framework of reliable tulips which I can simply top up.
This is where the most perennial tulip varieties are going.
White Emperor (purissima). As the name suggests this is a big, pure creamy white tulip, buttery yellow at the base. It flowers early, it doesn't spoil in the weather (unlike some white tulips) and I have had a clump growing here for 10 years.
Spring Green. I think that this must be the most reliable tulip I grow - it even comes back in some large pots, year after year. The base is a yellowy white with broad green stripes up the petals. This is also the tulip which had a stem so sturdy that it withstood a spaniel puppy careering through the flower beds.
Tulip sylvestris. I have never grown this before - but saw it growing in the grass down at Perch Hill in the Spring. I originally ordered the bulbs for the orchard but then thought that they might attract the deer and changed my mind. So it will be adding a spark of yellow to the border instead. It is a wild tulip and scented - Sarah Raven says that it is perennial with her so I am giving it a try. I shall let you know.
Other tulips I find pretty perennial here are the clear orange Ballerina (which smells of freesias so I forgive its weak stems), the raspberry ripple Marilyn and apricot Menton which has amazing staying power as a flower - 3 weeks in bloom. I also found that the glorious Orange Favourite was perennial for about 5 years, but this has now been discontinued by most sellers due to virus build up so I am not replenishing my stock.
There is also going to be some narcissi Bellsong and the white allium multibulbosum nigrum along with lush cream and apricot wallflowers. I may sneak in some white flowered sweet rocket too.
The other places I am going to grow tulips are in rows in the cutting patch and in pots - with both I am treating the tulips as annuals and just thinking of the expense as a gift to myself.
I shall replant the bulbs in the perennial meadow and see what happens . . .
Tulip bulbs don't actually want to be perennial. Being perennial does not increase their gene pool. They want to divide into little bulbils which will eventually make new bulbs. The bulb fields in Holland encourage this tendency by planting the bulbs very shallowly and closely so that the bulbs heat up and divide fast. To slow the process down therefore you need to keep the bulbs as cool as possible and plant deeply.
This is how I plant tulips in the ground.
Commercial cut flower growers treat all tulips as annuals - cramming them in so they touch and then pulling the bulb out of the ground along with the stem and flower when harvesting. There is a mini course on how to do this on the Floret Flower website.
With my cutting rows I do similarly - but as I am cutting for myself rather than for market, I do not pull the bulbs but cut the stems so there are some leaves left to nourish the bulb. I do then replant the bulbs in the perennial meadow and some re-bloom the following year.
I will write another post about planting in grass and pots.
Pests - There are lots of things love the taste of tulips - deer were my nemesis but rabbits, badgers and squirrels can also be a problem. Really there is very little you can do except for creating physical boundaries. I find that, by the time the tulips are actually above ground, the deer here have other things to eat and don't come in the garden so - in areas nearest to the woods - I tack horticultural fleece temporarily over the area I've planted. But obviously this isn't going to work if you have munching animals about all year. . . If anyone had a solution I would love to hear it.
If you enjoyed reading this post you might like to read about the creation of our cutting patch earlier this year.