Growing tulips

Posted: Monday 23 April 2012
by James Alexander-Sinclair

Something very odd, and not very good, is going on with my tulips.

Tulipa Antraciet

Something very odd, and not very good, is going on with my tulips. The tulips always make this one of the best times of the year for me, with a great eruption of interesting colour, after a winter of green and grey. Of course there have been little bursts of excitement along the way; a bit of tasteful white around new year (snowdrops) and a splash of blue from the Iris reticulata, followed, of course, by a cheery smothering of daffodils. But the tulips are our first sight of some really bright colours since autumn.

We have various tulip varieties planted in the borders, and quite a few in pots scattered around the place. The border tulips have mostly been devoured by mice. In one border I planted about three hundred a couple of years ago; this year there are seven! I must have kept many generations of mice happy and well fed throughout the winter. A couple of good clumps remain and thrive in the garden, so I don’t have much to complain about, really.

The tulips in pots are the ones that are most confuzzling. In more than one place, we have planted identical numbers, of identical bulbs, in the same soil, and yet there are striking variations in growth. Some are tall, elegant and well toned, while others are short, with no poise. It is like a remake of Twins, which was, you may remember, a 1980s film where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny de Vito were long-lost tall and short twin brothers.

I do not know the answer to this problem. It must have been caused by a minor difference in maintenance - tulips do not like being dry in the winter (when they are doing most of their growing) and we must have missed watering them, or something. It’s easy to do when nothing else needs water in the winter.

All I do know is that I will keep trying. It’s back to the old story about Robert the Bruce and the spider. As I’m sure you remember, Robert the Bruce (King of Scotland) was on the run in the early 1300s. Hiding in a cave he watched a spider trying to make a web, and failing. But it kept trying, until through dogged determination, it succeeded. This inspired the King to keep fighting until he finally beat the English at Bannockburn in 1314. eh? Horticulture, human interest and history – what more could you want?

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Talkback: Growing tulips
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step 24/04/2012 at 07:47

I too have had a disappointing tulip incident. The 300 'Queen of the Nights' I've been very excited about in a very large galvanised tub - have started to flower. They are in fact a nasty mix of all sorts of reds and oranges - not part of the scheme at all. Some big some small, some weedy. Lesson learnt - only go to suppliers you trust!

Yvieh 24/04/2012 at 12:56

Shame that your Tulips are not what you wished to purchase. To be honest, I've bought from various suppliers, that I do, in general, trust, and had problems.  I've had various packs of bulbs and plants, that turned out be NOT what I'd ordered, or NOT what was printed on the packaging, or within the catalogue.  On each occasion, I have called the supplier, explained the situation, and they have either replaced, with the correct goods, or refunded my money.  So even our 'trusted' suppliers make mistakes.


oldchippy 25/04/2012 at 12:08

Hi James,I don't grow tulips but all my yellow daff's have finished that is the one's that flowered this year the white daff's are better than ever this year maybe the seasons are back to front warm end to winter cold start to spring,who can tell.


happymarion 25/04/2012 at 12:19

I love species tulips, James. T. . . clusiana, sylvestris, Turkistanica, tarda, all thrive in my garden but Even I weep sometimes. The wind and torrential rain in Bristol last night has snapped the stems of my clusiana which have been delighting me these last few weeks. Serves me right for putting them right in the middle of the garden where I can enjoy them most. It seems like some shelter is needed.

Shrinking Violet 25/04/2012 at 13:39

I planted my tulips in troughs this year, and they have been spectacular (sorry to rub it in).  The only disappointment was that the deep burnt-orange ones were a bit more peachy.  I had intended a full colour clash with strong purple and deep red, but it didn't quite go to plan.  But I'll try again next year.

btw am I the only one who doesn't see the point of yellow tulips?  After all the yellow daffs, I want something different - and love the strong colour splash that tulips can offer.  Yellow tulips just seem - well,  a bit of the same colour palette, and a bit boring as a result.

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