The Shy Tulips

We had a very mild winter in the South East. At the end of February we had temperatures just nudging 20°C. It looked like the tulips were going to be exceptionally early this year.

Nature has a way of correcting herself. If she overreaches, she seems to reflect, to modify her trajectory, and somehow get back on track.

And so, in the second week of April, as always, I am beside myself with anticipation for the arrival of the tulips.

I have planted my three raised beds with tulips this year. This was a ‘sort-of-accident’.

I had planned to replenish my bright border with tulips. After three years, tulip stocks tend to diminish. The blooms come up much smaller, and some bulbs come up ‘blind’ with just a couple of leaves and no flower.

We had a dry autumn, and I found it utterly impossible to get a spade into my hard-baked clay. An easier task by far was to plant the tulip bulbs into my raised beds (you can see the process in ‘Dig Deep’ here).

The view from the middle raised bed, with Tulip ‘Blue Diamond’ centre-stage, and ‘Ollioules’ behind.

To get the longest life out of tulip bulbs, especially if you garden on clay, plant deep (30cm is ideal) and mix in loads of horticultural grit. This will both help drainage (bulbs hate wet) and will deter pesky little munchers like mice and slugs. It also serves a very useful purpose, if like me, you forget where you planted bulbs. If you start to dig a patch of earth and you encounter a load of grit, you know that that’s where your bulbs are. Hopefully before you’ve put your spade through them.

Tulip ‘Antraciet’, just starting to take on a smudge of colour.

My ‘sort-of-accident’ involved a second and then a third order of tulips. The first batch was a much-planned bulk-buy from JP Parkers Wholesale. My second batch was the inevitable slip-of-the-thumb clicking on Sarah Raven. The third was just blatant greediness, from Gee-Tee Bulbs.

Tulip ‘Ollioules’

The result is a lot of tulips in these raised beds. I am envisioning a slightly scaled-down Dutch tulip field. My very own Keukenhof.

But the tulips are still being shy!

We have had over a week of very little sunshine. There has been a mellow fug over our part of the world. It is like stepping out of the shower to find the bathroom all steamed up. It is not unpleasant; it just doesn’t inspire you to strip off and start sunbathing.

Hence this ‘Black Parrot’ tulip clutching the towel around himself.

Tulip ‘Black Parrot’ in bud.

Tulip ‘Antraciet’ is one of my absolute favourites. When it colours up, it will be the most magnificent cherry red. For now she is clinging tightly to her layers, and keeping her thoughts to herself.

Tulip ‘Antraciet’ in bud.

‘Margarita’ has taken the plunge. Though she may be reconsidering. Here she is, looking a little wistful.

Tulip ‘Margarita’

She too has marvellous depths of tone, with shades of plum, raspberry and watermelon. I can’t wait to see her in the sun.

Tulip ‘Margarita’

‘Princes Irene’ is looking on, wondering whether to join her. She’s just twitching her shoulder, as if about to shrug off her cape.

Tulip ‘Princes Irene’

The bravest soul is ‘Blue Diamond’.

Tulip ‘Blue Diamond’

As with all supposedly blue tulips, this is a misnomer. I am told that this decidedly pink tulip will take on a silvery lilac tone as it ages.

Tulip ‘Blue Diamond’, just opened.

Which will look rather fetching with this self-sown borage, just seated at the edge of one of the raised beds.

Borago offinalis (borage).

Here is the rose garden. Last year’s tulip, ‘Ronaldo’, is looking rather fetching with the wallflowers ‘Sunset Series’ (you can find out more about sowing biennials to accompany tulips here).

Tulip ‘Ronaldo’ planted in the rose garden with Rosa ‘Lady of Megginch’ and Erysimum cheiri (wallflower) ‘Sunset Series’

Tulip ‘Ronaldo’ with Erysimum cheiri ‘Sunset Series’

Erysimum ‘Sunset Series’ comes up in vintage tones of rose pink,

Erysimum cheiri ‘Sunset Series’

and creamy peach:

Erysimum cheiri ‘Sunset Series’

If growing biennials seems a bit of a faff, I would stick with the tulip’s perfect partner, new rose foliage.

Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ new spring foliage.

Next week, I hope to bring you tulips in their prime. I think by then they will all be feeling brave enough to throw off their capes, and show us their true colours.

If my memory serves me correctly, I should have one raised bed of soft pinks and silvery lilac, one of warm apricots and oranges, and one of dark plum and magenta.

If you share a fetish for tulips, peonies, roses or dahlias, you might like to ‘follow’ The Mindful Gardener. I share my adventures in gardening, including top tips, and the little pops of wonder that inevitably happen when you spend a lot of time crouching in a flower-bed.

Your email address will be stored securely and will not be shared with third parties. My weekly post aims to replenish your energy, rather than being an annoyance.

Thank you for all the lovely messages last week. I started my new job, and I am really enjoying it. I have been checking on my seedlings in the greenhouse before work, and taking a walk around the garden each evening. There will be a little bit of weeding this weekend, but mainly just enjoying the tulips and the new growth.

51 Comments Add yours

  1. My first have opened. The black parrots were last to open last year but one of my favourites. Looks like you’ll have a good display.

    1. They are fabulous. We just need a little sunshine now!

  2. fredgardener says:

    Mine have opened too. Your ‘Blue diamond ‘ is a stunner ! This tulip looking like a peony is very pretty ( among all others…)

    1. It is a new one to me, and I love it too. It is starting to turn silvery in the sun. I love all the peony-flowered tulips. They always have such a depth of colour.

  3. These are such beautiful pictures. My mother used to grow wallflowers … they always make me think of her. Lovely. Katie

    1. Aw, that is lovely. They have a delicious scent too. I think I need to bring some indoors to make the most of it.

      1. How lovely that would be!

  4. Gorgeous photos as always, Ali . . . and I sense your anticipation at the full beauty to come. Photos, please! Having struggled with tulips on a wet Welsh hillside I am in my element growing them here, they seem to love Asturias as much as I do. Raised beds are a great idea, mine are all in large pots which seems to work well. Your wallflowers are a beautiful complement, just have to love the cheeky little borage, too! 🙂

    1. Borage might become another favourite self-seeder in my garden. I like its enterprising spirit! Yes, I can imagine that the tulips like Asturias. I’m guessing you have quite a thin soil?

      1. I LOVE borage but it got me into plenty of trouble in the past when the veg garden wasn’t my responsibility, it’s just so sociable! 🙂 Strangely enough, our soil is very deep and loamy but keeping it at the top of the slope is the problem! More terracing work planned for this week . . .

      2. Ooh, that sounds exciting!

  5. Your tulips are going to be stunning. The deer and rabbits have destroyed most of mine, so I am looking forward to seeing all of yours in their full glory.
    So glad your new job it going well. I’m sure your garden is a most relaxing place to be after the stress of learning a new job.
    Happy weekend in your garden!

    1. Oh, naughty deer and rabbits! We have lots of rabbits surrounding our garden but the people who lived here before put in a chicken-wire fence all around, and so far it has worked.

  6. bcparkison says:

    I have never grown tulips but I do craft them in paper. Now I do need to put some in the ground after seeing your beautiful patch. Can’t wait to see them in full bloom.

    1. They are getting more beautiful by the hour!

  7. Rupali says:

    Just beautiful. Every bud every flower is beauty in itself.

  8. Ann Mackay says:

    Lovely tulips! I love your ‘Ronaldo’ – it’s a wonderful colour, especially teamed with the Erysimum …you are giving me ideas! (Again!) 🙂

    1. I do love wallflowers and tulips together. There are some really lovely varieties of wallflower to experiment with.

      1. Ann Mackay says:

        There could be some experiments in my future…… 🙂

  9. gaiainaction says:

    This blog post has been very valuable to me as this season I have bought quite a few bulbs, not tulips yet but they are too follow. I gleaned valuable information about bulb growing in general and that’s wonderful. Your photos are beautiful too as is the rest of your garden. Thanks for putting together such great information

    1. I’m really happy to hear this, Agnes, thank you! I hope you have many happy experiments.

      1. gaiainaction says:

        Thank you Ali 🙂

  10. Jill Kuhn says:

    Your gardens are always a delight to my eyes!! Such beautiful tulips, just waiting to unfurl

    1. Ah, thank you Jill, I am glad you enjoyed this. X

  11. Heyjude says:

    I shall be looking out for your tulips in the next week or two! Very envious of the three beds! ‘Ronaldo’ looks lovely with the Erysimum. I might have to copy that next year! The wind whipping through my garden today has managed to tear off many petals from ‘Cairo’ and some rather lovely red ones edged in yellow ‘Verandi’ which were standing tall this morning are practically horizontal now! I do like the way the Parrots are folded, but their heads are too large for here as are the peony type, but saying that I am rather taken with ‘Blue diamond’

    1. Three beds are greedy I know. They give me such pleasure though, that if I had a small garden I might choose to garden like this and constantly experiment with tulips and annuals. I guess I would need a couple of climbing roses too! That is so heartbreaking about the wind! A bit like that terrifically hot day last spring which burnt many of my tulips to a crisp.

      1. Heyjude says:

        If I had moved here ten years ago I would have probably ripped everything out of this plot and created a more secluded courtyard style of garden with four large raised beds and a little summer house. No lawn, nice cobbled pathways and a row of silver birch trees on one side.

      2. It’s fun to imagine what we would do again, given the chance!

  12. Eliza Waters says:

    Beauty abounds in your garden, Ali! The colors are really starting to shine.
    Glad to hear your new job is a happy fit for you.

  13. Clare Pooley says:

    Like Cindy, my tulips are no more, having been eaten by the deer and the mice. I must make do with your beautiful display of flowers. I can’t wait for next week’s post. I’m pleased the job is going well xx

    1. Thank you Clare! Naughty little mice. Deer must be lovely to see though.

      1. Clare Pooley says:

        Yes, they are lovely and when we first saw them we were so excited! Now we tend to glower at them out of the window and if they look like heading for the flower/veg beds we make a move to head them off! I must admit to getting a little dewy-eyed when they bring their babies along!

  14. Love all the photos of the early tulips just starting to open up. I love tulips but I’m always digging them up because I can’t make up my mind where they should go, raised bed or under the hedge?

  15. Chloris says:

    Lovely; watching the buds unfold is part of the pleasure. Blue Diamond is stunning. What an amazing show you will have when they are all in bloom. Wallflowers are the perfect partners.

    1. They are looking fab now! Lovely to come home to at the end of a working day!

  16. Look forward to seeing the tulips in their prime.

    1. Thank you! I look forward to sharing!

  17. I imagine that your tulips will be well and truly partying by this time next week Ali. I loved your description of your sliding scale of bulb buying starting at well planned before you descended into pure greed 🙂 Anew job? Glad to hear that you are enjoying it and I hope that you had a relaxing weekend.

    1. Thank you! They are looking fab now!

  18. Beautiful!

    Weird season for tulips here. Warm february had the humilis types in flower early but then the weather turned cold and everything else has been waiting or weeks.

    1. Yes, my Tulipa Hager’s, which are usually fantastic, were very short-lived, but I think it will be an extended season for the big showy ones because it has been cooler.

      1. Probably. Erythroniums too, have been happily longer lived this year because of the cool. Today has seen a lot of them go over though😊

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great anticipation here too! We have the leaves; now we await the buds, then the blooms!

    1. It’s a brilliant wait, isn’t it?

  20. These are absolutely spectacular. Tulips put on such a beautiful spring show 💕

  21. Cathy says:

    Great descriptions, as always, Ali – and you have set me thinking about tulips with my roses. I had already redistributed some existing species ones in the one bed which had become a rose bed, but adding more to this and others is definitely something to consider. Do you find the tulip foliage gets hidden by the roses’? And 30cm deep? I might try that in the shrub border where I have been trying to establish some permanent tulips

    1. I planted tulips a little too close to my bare-root roses – they were perfect the first year, but now the tulips sort of have a sun-shade of rose foliage! So in retrospect, I would plant them maybe 50cm out from the central graft of the rose. They do make perfect partners: the rose foliage looks lovely with the tulips (impossible to clash), and the tulips hide the thorny bare stems of the roses. Then geraniums, salvia, etc, grow up around the dying tulip foliage to hide that – win-win-win! 30cm is quite difficult in my clay soil, which also comes compacted with a good amount of builders’ rubble, but if you can dig deep it is worth it, because the tulips seem more perennial the deeper they are, and the bulbs are protected from my careless spade when I am rearranging herbaceous perennials.

      1. Cathy says:

        Thanks for all this, Ali – something to think about…

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