My Top Spring Bulbs 2016


For the last two months our seaside garden has been ablaze with spring bulbs. Even if I do say so myself, this year’s display has surpassed all others in terms of longevity and flower-power. I put this down to three things: firstly, the best selection of varieties I have ever made; secondly, a plentiful number of good quality bulbs; and thirdly, a mild winter followed by a cold spring, which has prevented the flowers from ageing prematurely. As I write this post I am sitting at the garden table, warmed by hazy sunshine, surrounded by an explosion of sulphur yellow Narcissus “Hawera”, cool white N. “Segovia” and a veritable smorgasbord of flame, gold, bronze, plum and aubergine tulips. Watching them unfurl has been nothing short of thrilling.

Apart from a handful of Iris reticulata which failed to produce any flowers, none of my bulbs have disappointed me. But some have surpassed all expectations. We are both agreed that the discovery of the season has been a tulip called “National Velvet”. It is one of the Triumph group of tulips which are habitually sturdy, tall singles that make excellent cut flowers. The smooth, lustrous petals are the colour of a glass of Merlot and shimmer like a thoroughbred’s coat after a tough race. Unfortunately I have failed miserably to capture the colour accurately in a photograph. The flowers of T. “National Velvet” look smart and sophisticated against emerald-green foliage, as well as the soft green paintwork of our house. This tulip is going straight back on next year’s order and I suspect it will remain a favourite for many years to come.

In real life, Tulipa "National Velvet" is much deeper and darker in colour than this photograph suggests

In real life, Tulipa “National Velvet” is much deeper and darker in colour than my photograph suggests


Biggest surprise of the spring has been T. “Queensday”, a double tulip with neon-orange flowers bright enough to scorch one’s retinas. The need for sunglasses apart, watching the buds of this tulip open to form a champagne coupe of juicy-fruit petals has been joyous. Arranged alongside deep magenta double T. “Anthraciet”, T. “Queensday” has proved a great success and will be back in my bulb theatre again next year.

There is nothing digitally enhanced about this image of Tulipa "Queensday", which produces flowers in scorching neon-orange

There’s nothing digitally enhanced about this image of Tulipa “Queensday”, which produces flowers of scorching neon-orange


When I posted images of T. “Rococo” in bud they garnered a mixed reaction. In full bloom the flowers have lost nothing of their drama, but have perhaps become a little more palatable. The colour is blood-red with purple, green and orange highlights. The flower stems are neat and compact. I’ll be planting more, for sure.

Tulipa "Rococo", which I think would be better named "Red Dragon"

Tulipa “Rococo”, which I think would be better named “Red Dragon”


As the first of the tulips begin to fade I am still enjoying three narcissi that have gone on, and on, and on. The first to bloom was N. “Baby Boomer”, a tall, perky, multi-headed daffodil with flowers yellower than yellow. The stems and leaves of N. “Baby Boomer” are so fine and slender they are almost grassy, but no amount of wind has unsettled the delicate shuttlecock of golden flowers which we have enjoyed for a full six weeks.

Narcissus "Baby Boomer" possesses grace, stature and staying power

Narcissus “Baby Boomer” possesses grace, stature and staying power


I always buy more bulbs than I have space for, or time to plant, but in the case of Narcissus “Hawera”, cramming 20 bulbs into a 10″ pot proved to be a master stroke. Each bulb has produced 5 or 6 flowering stems, every one terminating in 4 or 5 tiny trumpets. The sense of profusion is quite remarkable. Rather less floriferous, but a welcome break from the rumbustiousness of the other flowers is a little narcissus named “Segovia”. Each stem bears a single flower with ice-white petals arranged around a flattened, buttercream trumpet.

Floriferous Narcissus "Hawera"

Fabulously floriferous Narcissus “Hawera”


Having been disappointed by most of the irises I planted last autumn, I will single out I. “Harmony” and I. “Scent Sational” for praise. The latter lived up to its name by producing plentiful, sweetly fragranced flowers for 2 – 3 weeks, which is good going for an early iris.

Meanwhile the fat lady hasn’t quite started to sing in our bulb theatre. Tulipa “Havran” and T. “Tambour Maitre” are only just beginning to colour up and will keep us entertained until Chelsea time. The flowers of T. “Tambour Maitre” are described as “rich red with an overlying touch of smoky-crimson”. They sound divine!

My favourite tulips of 2016

My favourite tulips of 2016


This autumn I have resolved to plant multiple pots of the same variety, which will give my display greater rhythm. I will also include more non-bulbous plants, such as euphorbias and ferns, to break up the sea of saturated colour. This is a tough call as it will limit how many new varieties I can experiment with, but my hope is that by late summer our building work will be finished and I will be able to use the garden “next door” to trial new varieties and colour combinations. I would like to experiment more with yellows, whites and pinks for starters.

Tulipa "Antraciet"

Tulipa “Antraciet” after the rain


I don’t like to plug particular companies too often in this blog, but I feel indebted to Sarah Raven, firstly for so artfully pulling together the selection of bulbs from which I chose, and secondly for sending me such top-notch bulbs. There is a lot of competition in the bulb world, but Sarah Raven has really cornered the market for gardeners who are looking for unusual, garden-worthy varieties that coordinate perfectly. Perhaps more growers and sellers could take a leaf out of Sarah’s book by curating their range more thoughtfully.

Tulipa "Brown Sugar" is tall, sturdy and reliable

Tulipa “Brown Sugar” is tall, sturdy and reliable


For those of you organised enough to be thinking about next year’s display, it will only be two weeks or so until most growers release their 2017 catalogues, just in time for the Chelsea Flower Show. If this seems a bit too soon, at the very least make a note of what’s performed well for you this spring and where there are gaps in your pots and borders. In the age of the mobile phone I find it just as easy to take snaps to remind me of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Before spring fades into summer I’d love to hear which flowering bulbs have given you joy or heartache this year and which varieties have risen to the top of your favourites list.

More Tulipa "Queensday", an exceptional, orange-scented double tulip

More Tulipa “Queensday”, an exceptional, orange-scented double tulip