On this day a year ago…

I love the smartphone for many things, not least its ability to track the actual history and progress of the garden.

Human memory is incredibly fallible.

I always think I will remember where I planted tulip bulbs/bare-root peonies/gladioli corms, but I can guarantee that two weeks later my memory will be half a metre out and will try to plant something else directly over the top.

Similarly, I just can’t retain the richness of information about what the garden looked like a week ago, let alone a month or a year ago.

So keeping accurate records in the form of photos is fabulous.

Look what I discovered this morning.  On this day, a year ago, the tulips were out,  radiant in the sunshine!

Tulipa ‘Brown Sugar’

‘Brown Sugar’ is one of my absolute favourites of all time.  It has these amazingly rich, warm, sun-kissed tones, so that whilst it is predominantly burnt orange, there’s a pinky magenta blush to the outside of the petal, with striations of tangerine and gold along the mid-rib.  You can see the brushstrokes!  Inside is a golden stigma and black anthers, with a green star at the centre of the cup.  As if this weren’t enough, it smells of honey (not brown sugar).  Oh, and this was a bulb just casually replanted from a pot one year, with no expectation of it doing much, but there it is three years on.  Please let it still be there!

Also in my Top 5 is ‘Antraciet’.  Actually this might be my number one, but don’t tell ‘Brown Sugar’.  Look:


It’s glossy, and sophisticated, and satiny and HUGE!  Do you see the little feathery frills at the edge of the petals when it is fully open?  It ranges from cherry-pink to dark crimson (two of my favourite colours) depending on the light.

Two years ago, I spent a small fortune on a selection of tulips for my raised bed.  It was one of those moments on an October afternoon when you suddenly realise you have a good three square metres of planting space that you haven’t filled.  What to do but order 200 tulips bulbs? (At wholesale prices. So totally worth it.)

I chose ‘Rem’s Favourite’ (white with purple feathering), ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Spring Green’ (ivory and green), ‘Abba’ (scarlet, but yes, chosen for the name) and the white multi-headed Narcissus ‘Thalia’.

Tulips ‘Rem’s Favourite’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Spring Green’, ‘Abba’ and Narcissus ‘Thalia’

This was a photo taken in the tulips’ second year, suggesting that they repeated very well.  So why on earth did I dig up the bulbs once they finished flowering?  I don’t know; my phone can’t tell me this.  I think it was because I was worried that the bulbs were taking up too much room and I wanted to plant new dahlias.  Now I have three raised beds, and I can feel another raised-bed-tulip-display coming on for 2019.

Not all of the tulips were out on this day a year ago.  These are the tulips in the Bright border. But the border was at least two weeks ahead of where it is this year.  The phlox foliage had already made plump pillows, and my favourite geum ‘Hilltop Beacon’ was out.  The tulips in the bright border are ‘Couleur Cardinal’ (smoky plum on the outer petals, maturing from crimson to scarlet), ‘Tambour Maitre’ (a cleaner cherry red), ‘Ballerina’ (tangerine and magenta, lily-flowered, scented, the most long-lasting and long-lived tulip) and ‘Purple Dream’ (lily-flowered, but slightly gangly and ungainly).


This is the bright border a couple of weeks later.  You can see the difference some sunshine and maturity makes:

Tulips ‘Couleur Cardinal’, ‘Tambour Maitre’, ‘Purple Dream’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Antraciet’

Here is a close-up of ‘Tambour Maitre’ with ‘Ballerina’ and something purple, maybe ‘Recreado’ in the background:

Tulipa 'Couleur Cardinal' and Tulipa 'Ballerina'

For my rose garden, I wanted to start with marmalade ice-cream tones.  Yes, marmalade ice-cream.  With a scoop of blackcurrant sorbet.  I chose creamy peony-flowered ‘Verona’ and apricot ‘Charming Lady’.  They were perfectly nice, but it needed that hit of blackcurrant to bring it to life.  Here is ‘Purple Peony’ with a tasteful shimmer of dew:


And then full-skirted splendour.  It’s those plum smudges that really get me.

Tulipa 'Purple Peony' (2)
Tulip ‘Purple Peony’

Now that I’ve started, I am just going to go the whole hog and let you see my other favourite tulips.  Do you want to time-travel?

Here is ‘Ballerina’ again, this time in my old garden, with the wonderful magenta viridiflora tulip ‘Doll’s Minuet’:


Viridiflora tulips are usually fab for coming back again and again, but ‘Doll’s Minuet’ wasn’t that great.  ‘Ballerina’ is an incredibly tenacious tulip.  It seems to increase year on year, rather than decrease.  It is another one that smells of honey.  And it is just so shapely!  Look at its elegant derrière!

Whilst we’re in my old garden, let’s hop to the front garden.  This is why I fell in love with ‘Couleur Cardinal’.  It is pictured with the parrot tulip ‘Rococco’ (wonderful scarlet but with made flecks of green and smoky plum!) and lots of lovely lupin foliage.  This was my view when I was doing the washing up:

Tulipa Couleur Cardinal and Rococco

Here is ‘Black Parrot’.  These photos show it in different light conditions, showing the wonderful range of tones.  And the feathers!  Such plumage!  Good Morning, my fine-feathered friends!  The first pic is in my old back garden (grown in pots) and the second pic is in the rose garden at Sissinghurst.

Shall I try to make a Top 5?  Whoops!  I seem to have overflowed.

  1. Antraciet
  2. Brown Sugar
  3. Couleur Cardinal
  4. Ballerina
  5. Purple Peony
  6. Rem’s Favourite
  7. Black Parrot
  8. Doll’s Minuet
  9. Rococco
  10. Spring Green

I realise I haven’t a yellow.  I’m a bit over yellow by the time the daffodils have finished.  Though if pushed, I would probably go for lily-flowered ‘Westpoint’.  And for apricot, I love ‘Temple of Beauty’.  And on my wishlist for next year is the coral pink-orange ‘Queensday’.  I might need to set a reminder on my phone.

What are your favourite tulips?  Do you have any favourite combinations?

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors.

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63 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    So many beautiful blooms, how can one choose a ‘best’? My only foray into growing tulips was in a previous garden and wasn’t terribly successful. I don’t have any in my presentgarden. But I could be tempted…….

    1. Ali says:

      They are easy in pots, Jane! Half compost, half grit, two or three layers for a ‘bulb lasagna’. Probably need a bit of cold, but only as much as they would get in Turkey!

      1. janesmudgeegarden says:

        I completely overlooked the fact that only a few days ago I planted tulipa clusiana and tulipa kaufmanniana! And you think you’re forgetful! I chose them because they’re supposed to naturalise easily. Thanks for the growing tips Ali.

      2. Ali says:

        😂 Beautiful! Lovely choices! Tulipa hageri ‘Little Beauty’ is my favourite for naturalising!

      3. janesmudgeegarden says:

        I just looked at it online and felt immediate desire!

      4. Ali says:

        Know that feeling! 😜

  2. Fiona says:

    Beautiful tulips just what we need to brighten the garden this time of year. Taking photos is a great idea I use photos to remind me of how tidy my borders should be!

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, ‘before and after’ shots are useful!

  3. Rupali says:

    Your garden looks like a beautiful collage of colours. In my case I visit local gardens or sometimes travel to see such wonders.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s a good reason to travel, Rupali!

  4. This is wonderful Ali. I am starting to really appreciate tulips and have several big pots of them around the greenhouse door this year. they looked so good in the sun yesterday. Lovely photographs and definitely some to watch out for there.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh! Lucky you, are they out yet?

  5. Most of them yes. The bigger ones in the garden are not quite there yet.

    1. Ali says:

      Lovely! I have a handful out, but most are still green buds.

      1. Tulips seem to be very happy in our garden soil. The unnamed big yellow ones we inherited from the previous owners 14 years ago and they just keep increasing. We planted T. Sylvestris in the front garden and that does ok. T humilis Lilliput does well too but is so tiny and early that we miss it most years!

      2. Ali says:

        Ooh, ‘Lilliput’ looks lovely! Maybe another one for me!!

      3. It is a lovely dark red!😄

      4. Ali says:

        I do love a dark red!

  6. Susan Beard. says:

    Love this post. Nice and informative too.

  7. What a beautiful post! I love the photography and your blogging style!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, it is lovely to have you here!

  8. bcparkison says:

    Well…now I’m sick at heart. No tulips. Your photos are grand and I just may add tulips,the real kind, to my garden ( I do make paper tulips on my greeting cards) Thank you for sharing your garden

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, you won’t regret it! They bring such joy. Thank you for the lovely comment.

  9. rusty duck says:

    That orange and magenta combo is heavenly. You’ve convinced me to try harder with tulips!

    1. Ali says:

      Orange and magenta is a favourite combo! Glad I’ve tempted you!

  10. What gorgeous colours in your beautiful garden! I wish we had room for so many Tulips. 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      It is hard to fit everything in! I love seeing pics of what other people are growing for that reason.

  11. I’m so glad you took pictures last year and posted them today. They are beautiful! This was my first year with tulips. I used a sampler pack with about 40 bulbs (five to six bulbs each of seven or so different kinds). I envisioned a bounty of tulips, but what I got was more of a fun introduction with staggered bloom times. You have the right idea with planting 200 bulbs! My favorites from the sampler package were Emperor tulips (they came up early and lasted a long time), Jean Scherer tulips, and tulip Menton. The rest were unimpressive (either due to the bulbs or to my growing conditions). Black parrot bulbs were in my sampler pack, but they did not come up at all. The black parrot blooms in your photos are absolutely gorgeous, so maybe I will try them again!

    1. Ali says:

      Hi Terri, yes it is surprising how many bulbs you need! Also it’s worth buying from a specialist supplier (I like J Parkers if I’m bulk-buying, or Avon bulbs, or Sarah Raven. Black Parrot is worth it, but doesn’t come back well for a second year. I justify the expense by not indulging in other luxuries! I’d rather have bulbs and muck than perfume or jewellery for Christmas!

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Val! 😀

  12. You have a wonderful selection. Really they look scrummy. I am going to Holland later this month and hope to find lots of new ideas to try. Ballerina remains a firm favourite.

    1. Ali says:

      Ooh, lucky you, Dorris! I look forward to photos!

  13. Chloris says:

    What a wonderful selection of tulips, it won’t be long now! Having a blog is a great way of seeing what was in bloom in previous years. Everything is much later this year.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I think it’s 2-3 weeks’ behind in our garden.

  14. Amazing and such gorgeous photos.

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Shelly!

  15. Heyjude says:

    Oh, my, another tulip fanatic. I am going to have to come back and reread this post and make note of your favourites. I love Brown Sugar and Ballerina and bought loads of tulips last year (but not anywhere near as many as you did), mostly in pots. Not sure how many will reappear this year as I know they can be fickle, but I am enjoying seeing some in bud already. All my tulips are on my flower blog: https://smallbluegreenflowers.wordpress.com/tag/tulips/

    1. Ali says:

      I will take a look, thank you!

  16. I love tulips! These are gorgeous!

  17. Anita says:

    Lovely images of beautiful flowers!!

    1. Ali says:

      Glad you enjoyed them, Anita.

  18. oh I wish I had that many tulips in my garden (my absolute favourite outside flower -orchids inside since you ask) – maybe one day I will be that organised and neat. At the moment it feel like it will be nothing but a mudpit forever more. Your photos are fantastic!

  19. Anna says:

    Oh what a fabulous display of tulips in your raised bed Ali. I will investigate ‘Purple Peony’ forthwith. I have a longstanding love/hate relationship with tulips – love the flowers but hate the leaves. I also struggle to grow them that well. My favourite which I usually succeed with is ‘Mount Tacoma’ – a fabulous frothy double creamy white.

    1. Ali says:

      Pots and containers might be the way to go? Then you can whisk them away when the foliage starts to annoy? In flowerbeds I hide the old leaves with hardy geraniums, alchemilla, hemerocallis nearby.

  20. Beautiful post Ali! I don’t have many tulips, but have lots of irises. Near my home is a huge tulip farm that I visited two years ago. Acres and acres of tulips in bloom! After reading your post I feel another visit to the farm coming on! I shall document this in a blog post!

    1. Ali says:

      Oh goodness, that sounds fab! I love irises but don’t grow them for some reason. They’re hideously expensive, but am sure they would bulk up and I could divide. I look forward to admiring yours!

      1. Your tulip posts have been fabulous! Makes me want to add some to my garden for next spring. The irises are easy and don’t require much care which I appreciate. They do bulk up and over the years I’ve shared quite a few with friends and neighbors! 🌷

  21. Annette says:

    Your tulip display is pure awesome! Brown Sugar is on my list for next year, such a splendid colour. Yes, keeping track with the camera is a good thing. I shall take pictures of gaps in the bulb planting now, so that I know where to plant in autumn. Happy spring days 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Annette! That is such a good idea. I need to do the same.

  22. Gypsy Indigo says:

    Wow simply beautiful! Last week I bought a bouquet of tulips in a rich deep purple!
    But now you just inspired me to develop my green thumb!

    1. Ali says:

      That’s wonderful! If you need any help, just shout!

  23. Ali: I celebrated your blog in this post I just wrote. Thank you for the beautiful work you do here.


  24. Ali says:

    Thanks so much, Shelly, I am honoured to be included!

  25. Oh such a joy to see those pics of tulips – and I’ve made a list of most of your favourites as they look such a great choice. I already have about half of your list but some are new to me. Thanks for such lovely pictures on this rainy April day.

    1. Ali says:

      That’s wonderful, I hope you like them! Thank you for your generous comments.

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