Tulip Time

October 19, 2019

 Does any flower trigger more impulse buying than the tulip? I confess to perusing every colorful catalog that lands in my mailbox. When I lived in Nebraska, I indulged in a personal “tulip mania” every year. When everyone was weary of winter’s ceaseless grip the sight of a mass of mixed orange and purple tulips brought ‘round the after-church sightseers! 

 

The year I discovered a wholesale source, I went wild buying 500 of the Darwin tulip Gudoshnik, a highly variable red and light-yellow selection. My husband and I planted them in a city park one hole at a time. The spring show was spectacular and these tulips gave several encore performances. Introduced in the early 1950s, Darwin tulips are the type most likely to come back for two or three years.

 

Photo: Flame tulips set among other flowers (from a painting I snapped in a museum).

 

The fact that tulips are not really perennial coupled with the fact that they are critter candy make them a floral luxury. They require excellent drainage, full sun and a couple of months of cold weather. Typically we plant them in November when soil temperatures have cooled to about 55 degrees. The Dutch plant bulbs one hole at a time. However, I have dug out a large area for mass plantings and that works, too. Plant the bulbs pointy end up six to eight inches deep and four to six inches apart. They really do make the best impression in groups of at least 12.

 

In order for tulips to have a chance to bloom a second year, the gardener must do two things. First snap off the flowers as they fade to prevent seed formation, which drains the bulb’s energy. Second, allow the foliage to feed the bulbs until it dies away. I know that this is not a pretty picture. I find that emerging perennials attract a viewer’s eye away from the fading flowers and provide some cover for them.

 

(Photo: Lily-form tulip with other spring flowers.)

 

Last year I planted tulips in containers which overwintered in my backyard. I moved the pots out front when the flowers were ready to bloom. If you have large containers where you want to view the tulips, overplant them with pansies for winter interest and continued color after the tulips are finished. Container-grown tulips are annuals. Pitch the bulbs when the show is over. One plus to this is that one can have a completely fresh color scheme every year.

 

There are early, midseason, and late-blooming tulips. The early ones bloom alongside late daffodils. Double and single early tulips put on a really impressive show. Emperor and Kaufmanniana tulips have proportionately large flowers on stocky stems.

 

Midseason tulips bloom as the daffodils finish. The Darwin and Triumph tulips offer the gardener the widest selection of colors, whether neon bright, pastel or flamed. Lovely as late-season tulips are, our springs are too warm for them to perform well. In fact, even in Nebraska, their blooming could be a bit iffy.

 

Photo: They sell wooden tulips in Holland.

 

The Netherlands is most closely associated with the tulip and the Dutch produce the ones we buy here. However, the tulip is a native of Central Asia in the harsh environments of the Celestial Mountains of China and Russia’s “Roof of the World.” There are around 120 “species tulips,” many of which are available for sale. To see photos of them in their native habitat visit tulipsinthewild.com. There you will find an interactive map which I found quite engaging.

 

Over the course of hundreds of years tulips made their way to Istanbul. European merchants then introduced the bulbs into Europe. The imperial botanist Clusius is credited with bringing them to Holland where the Dutch set to work hybridizing them into the tulips we know and love today.  

 

Even in the sunny South, the onset of cold weather still brings out a mild case of tulip mania in master gardener Ann Bartlett. 

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