Tulipa: the most colourful and versatile of our spring bulbs
Practically guaranteed to make everyone smile, tulips (known botanically as Tulipa) are the most colourful of our spring bulbs. Available in a vast range of colours, shapes and sizes, tulips can offer us colour, texture and interest from March through to early May.
Brilliantly versatile, tulips can be used as spring bedding, in containers and pots, in lawns or mixed ornamental borders. They like a fertile soil, but most really don’t appreciate very wet ground. All will do much better if they are in sheltered locations because strong winds will quickly damage their relatively heavy flowers. The vast majority of tulips definitely prefer a sunny position, so let’s find a place for them where they can shine and impress.
Tulips are bulbous perennials, and store energy in bulbs in preparation for the following year’s display. They have simple, mid-green, strap-like leaves and large colourful flowers. Probably best described as cup-like in form, the flowers are made up of six petals (there are actually three petals and three sepals, but most of us would describe them as petals) forming two circular whorls.
The tulip family is divided into 15 different groups depending, most commonly, on the shape or timings of their flowers. For example, we have singles, doubles, cup-shaped, long, fringed, star-shaped and parrot-shaped. When selecting the best tulips for our particular requirement, it pays to follow the guidance on the packaging. Some are perfectly happy being left alone in the ground for several years, whilst some don’t cope very well with being left in the soil after they have finished flowering. For these tulips, we are better off waiting until they have replenished themselves after flowering and then lifting and storing the bulbs in a cool dry place. Varieties cultivated for use as bedding plants are really best thought of as ‘one hit wonders’ and should be replaced each year.
Tulip bulbs are available from garden centres and online plant retailers in late summer and early autumn and are best planted in October or November. They should be planted at least twice as deep as the height of the bulb, although I’ve seen some suppliers suggesting much deeper planting. Spacings vary but, as a general rule, I tend to work on approximately 8-10cm. They can be planted individually, but I always think they look better in groups or drifts.
With such a vast choice of tulips available to us it might be tempting to attempt to ‘colour theme’ our tulip display. I can understand this to a certain extent, but after the comparative drabness of winter I must admit that I crave the impact and colour that only a mixed display can deliver. A riot of different colours is definitely the way to go for me in early spring- we’ve got enough fresh green foliage all around us to balance things out, so let’s go for it.
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