What a peculiar spring it’s been, and we are only two-thirds of the way through. March began with The Beast from the East and Storm Emma, followed by a second bout of snow and gales two weeks later. Within a month we were experiencing the warmest April day since 1949, prompting daffodils, tulips and fruit trees to bloom in unison, then go over in the blink of an eye. Those that hung about got a good battering early this week, in the east of England especially. Winds roared down the North Sea coast stripping bright new foliage from the trees and flattening those tulips that remained. A warm Bank Holiday beckons, but what happens next in this year of climatic extremes is anyone’s guess.
Despite the eccentric weather, plants in both gardens are starting to catch up. They are currently anywhere between two and four weeks behind where I’d expect them to be, but making headway. I still have daffodils in bloom, and not only the late-flowering kind. There are a handful of tulips to come, including a new parrot tulip I am trying out called ‘Rai’. It’s billed as being a mixture of magnolia-purple and apple-green. Could be good, could be awful. Can’t wait to find out either way.
The majority of tulips I’ve grown this year are completely new to me. I like to experiment, and this spring felt like a good time to break with tradition. The Gin and Tonic Garden is enjoying its first season without builders and I chose white, ivory and yellow varieties only. In retrospect I should have introduced a few lilac and mauve ones to break this tight palette up. The double purple tulip I spotted at Disneyland Paris, ‘Dream Touch’, will certainly be on my autumn bulb order.
I surprised myself by liking all the tulips with variegated leaves, noticing how similar they are to the foliage of hostas. Tulip ‘Garant’ has green foliage, generously edged with gold, complementing canary-yellow flowers. In contrast white-flowered Tulip ‘Purissima Design’ has primrose-yellow leaf margins which echo the petals’ golden mid-rib. Although it is never going to be the main event, variegated foliage extends a tulip’s season of interest by a couple of weeks either side of flowering, which is a bonus worth having in my opinion. Another mouth-watering discovery was Tulip ‘Sweetheart’, which is a lemon meringue pie in flower form (see also feature image). Quite delicious and very long-lasting in bloom.
In the Jungle Garden I deviated from my normal combination of oranges and plums by trialling apricots and pinks. I didn’t get the selection quite right (I wanted peach Melba, I got tutti-frutti) but found some pleasing new varieties in the process. I can see Tulip ‘Big Brother’ becoming a firm favourite, combining shades of neon-orange and rose-pink in the most elegant, shapely, tapering flower. ‘Big Brother’ is one of a group known as Lefeber tulips which are prized for their stature and flower size. They are perfect for the back of a border or among shrubs, but may need support in windy locations. Most of mine ended up growing at a 45º angle. Other Lefeber tulips include ‘Blushing Beauty’, ‘El Nino’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Temple of Beauty’.
Another great discovery has been Tulip ‘Stunning Apricot’. The flowers are a lightly blushing coral-apricot and appear as if fashioned from duchesse satin. They are planted amongst Echium wildpretii (badly damaged by winter wet) and alongside Beschorneria yuccoides and look absolutely fabulous. Sage-green and apricot might be a very 80’s colour combination, but I adore it. Unlike ‘Big Brother’, ‘Stunning Apricot’ is sturdy and weather resistant.
All in all this year’s tulip display has been joyful, if a little brief and lacking in coordination. I picked a few winners and quite a lot of ‘also rans’, but nothing that sent me screaming for the hills. I sorely missed ‘Orange Dynasty’, ‘Rococo’ and ‘Slawa’, which formed part of my top 10 in 2017. Sometimes one just has to take a risk and try something different. We’re talking about bulbs, not saving lives after all. TFG.