tulips in situ

Now that my tulips are all but over, I thought it would be worth posting a round-up of how they looked in the garden rather than the vase. I couldn’t resist adding just one vase shot though: T. Malaika with a glass of vermouth – a perfect, though unexpected partnership. For those who like to know these things, the vermouth is Antica Formula – Joe’s current obsession. We’ve drunk rather a lot of it recently.

According to my receipt from Peter Nyssen Ltd, I ordered ten different tulips: Black Parrot, Barcelona, Couleur Cardinal, Don Quichotte, Fantasy, Hermitage, Princess Irene (also known as Princes Irene – I think they are the same), Queen of the night and Rococo. Only one tulip, Black Parrot, failed to make an appearance – more of which later.

I’ll start with T. Malaika was the first tulip out (though initially I mistook it for Princess Irene, because they appeared in the wrong order). I planted it in two places in the garden – a deep metal container along with paperwhites and some alliums (which have yet to flower), and below, in the border where I clearly just shoved them in as I ran out of time. I think they worked well in both situations.

I will certainly order more Malaika for next year, and I’ll probably double the amount to 50. They looked beautiful in amongst the strappy leaves of the paperwhites, and they were lovely as cut flowers, either on their own, or in combination with Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’, Hellebores and Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’, as you can see in this post here.

Back in November I wasn’t sure where I wanted to put most of the tulips. The garden still felt so new to me, I couldn’t be sure what would work in spring.

In the end I hedged my bets by planting all the tulips I was unfamiliar with, such as Malaika (random handful aside), Couleur Cardinal, Rococo and Fantasy, in pots so that I could move them around once I knew what they looked like. In the photograph above you can see Fantasy in the foreground and Couleur Cardinal behind.

Couleur Cardinal looked wrong from the start – all red and shouty and not really what I wanted. But of course when it came to moving the pots they were far too heavy. I was stuck with the loud red flowers at the bottom of the garden. It was quite a relief when I cut them all last week. So no Couleur Cardinal for next year.

Fantasy, however, worked a treat. It’s a slightly crazy flower, and not exactly what one would describe as being particularly elegant or tasteful, but I’ll certainly order more. I have an idea about combining it with Stipa arundinacea in the two large pots which I currently use as my experimental beds.

I put Rococo, another mad parrot, in old plastic pots which, in turn, I shoved into two galvanised buckets as I thought they would work best on their own. Although I was fascinated by their peculiarly twisted petals, I can’t say that I loved them – they kept making me think of sun dried tomatoes which, although delicious, I began to find slightly off-putting. Not one to repeat.

The rest of my tulips went into the patch at the bottom of the garden which I am planning to redesign this summer. Where there should have been a great drift of Black Parrot, there was instead a muddy, dog-shaped gap.

But apart from that I was lucky and Princess Irene, Hermitage, Queen of the Night, Don Quichotte and Barcelona all came up relatively unscathed. These combinations were more accident than design, the biggest accident being that both the pink tulips, Barcelona and Don Quichotte, and the two orange tulips, Princess Irene and Hermitage, were so alike as to be virtually indistinguishable.

Below is a view of the bed I filled with Barcelona and Don Quichotte, and I still have no idea which is which.

Although Princess Irene and Hermitage threw up similar issues, I was able to tell them apart as more emerged. Hermitage is a more fiery orange than Princess Irene. The photograph below is Hermitage with Queen of the Night and a very tragic, storm-bashed euphorbia, and below that is Princess Irene. Please, if anyone thinks I’ve muddled them up, do let me know.

It probably goes without saying, but all tulip fans should take the time to scroll through Jane Brocket’s tulip posts as she always has the most amazing selection in her garden, and  most of them are clearly named which is really helpful. Naomi at Out of My Shed has also posted some lovely photographs of her front garden with a mass of tulips – I do think planting them in large groups or drifts is the way to go if you have the space.

pick of the week

Although the warm patches over the Easter holidays were lovely, and it was exciting watching growth in the garden accelerate, I was quite glad when the weather turned and everything slowed down again. At one point plants were appearing so fast I could barely keep up, and I was worried the tulips would be over before I could really enjoy them.
But I needn’t have worried, they are all pacing themselves nicely.

You’ll have to forgive the somewhat repetitive nature of my posts at the moment – it’s partly record-keeping (nice to have a visual reminder of what the garden can do when you are staring at a muddy puddle in the middle of the winter), and partly the thrill of having a seemingly endless supply of tulips outside the back door.

The photographs above are of a small mixed bunch of tulips – Princess Irene (the orange one) and Rococo (the crazy red and green parrot) – mixed with a few sprigs cut from a nameless euphorbia and some grape hyacinths. Having used an old golden syrup tin for a bunch of white roses, sweet peas and fennel flowers last summer (you can see it here), I was determined to do something similar with a treacle tin.

Above is a similar mix but without the grape hyacinths. I enjoy picking little posies for the kitchen and other parts of the house as I find that they are easy to doctor day-by-day: when one flower fades I can pluck it out and pop something fresh into the mix. Below is the same bunch a couple of days later, revitalised with the addition of a few bluebells which I tucked into the gaps created as the parrot tulip began its dramatic collapse.

Although I have filled the garden with enough plants to keep me in cut something or other all year round, my garden is not large enough to contain the kind of abundance that larger displays would require. And greedy, dissatisfied gardener that I am, despite having plenty of lovely plants to tend and admire, I still dream of being able to cut great armfuls of flowers and greenery for every room in the house.

For height and drama I usually have to exercise a little patience and wait for the Crocosmia, which will be out in August, if not a little sooner. But by then I’ve usually succumbed to the gaudy charms of supermarket gladioli – why do I always forget to plant any of my own, especially as there are so many wonderful colours? More for The List.

But last weekend I decided to cut the drooping, storm-bashed euphorbia at the bottom of the garden. It has been in flower since February, providing bulk and greenery through the dreary winter months. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of bringing it in before, except, I suppose, that I had tried it before and it hadn’t really worked – it flopped tragically and smelt decidedly iffy. Anyway, this time I followed Sarah Raven’s advice about preparing the stems by dipping them in hot water, just off the boil. To stabilise them in the vase I used my mum’s brilliant trick of scrunching a piece of clear cellophane into the bottom. The euphorbia lasted about four days before smelling rank; the tulips, all picked last Friday and Saturday are all still up there on the mantelpiece doing their splendid thing. Apart from this little lot, that is …

They’ve been putting on a spectacular performance on the kitchen table – I changed the water this morning and I think they’ll last another day or two. Better sign off now, Martha is having a birthday party tomorrow (though her birthday was back at the beginning of April) and I have pirate stuff to find/make/curse over and a cake to bake.