Cold weather in spring can only hold our gardens back for so long. It’s like a catapult, the further the sling is pulled back – i.e the longer the cold days continue – the faster the shot flies when conditions improve. For the last week, every night has been over 5ºC and daytime temperatures have climbed into double figures. April’s green haze has started to solidify into the lime blaze of May, although it still feels as if we are three or four weeks behind a normal year, let alone last year when summer seemed to start in late March. I think we are all surprised and delighted by the length of this year’s tulip season, which has now endured for two months. I reckon we have about two weeks left, which, incredibly, will take us to the very eve of June.
In the Jungle Garden the spring display has now reached its zenith. I used to call my arrangement of pots a bulb ‘theatre’, but it’s become so lengthy that’s it’s now more accurately a bulb ‘stadium’. Larger pots (12″-14″) containing taller varieties are placed in the back row, medium sized pots (10-12″) are positioned in the middle and smaller pots filled with irises, hardy orchids, crocuses, miniature tulips, hostas, anemones and ranunculus make up the front row. At this time of year they are rearranged weekly and deadheaded daily to keep things looking tip-top.
Of course, it’s tulips that sustain our displays until the exotics are ready to come outside. We have several varieties that are in their prime right now, and one or two that are still in their first flush of youth, namely ‘Capri Dream’ and the absurdly named ‘Supri Erotic’. In the Gin & Tonic garden ‘Madonna’ and ‘Twilight Princess’ flank the greenhouse door, still fresh and fabulous. Here are mid May’s main protagonists:
From left to right: ‘Exotic Emperor’, ‘Madonna’, ‘Supri Erotic’, ‘Hemisphere’, ‘Peppermint Stick’, ‘Pretty Princess’, ‘Design Impression’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Capri Dream’ and ‘Black Hero’.
From top to bottom: ‘Exotic Emperor’, ‘Madonna’, ‘Supri Erotic’, ‘Hemisphere’, ‘Design Impression’, ‘Peppermint Stick’, ‘Pretty Princess’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Capri Dream’ and ‘Black Hero’.
What I particularly love about tulips is the sheer depth and complexity of their colouration. Even before you get to colour, there are different flower shapes, singles, doubles and parrot or fringed petals. Layer on top of that a spectrum of shades and tones that frequently defy description (if only there were a dictionary of words one could use to describe colour), displayed on petals with the most extraordinary lustre, and then add the effects produced by different lighting throughout the day ….. it’s enough to blow one’s mind. I have the exact same blooms I photographed for this post here on the table next to me and they look totally different only a few days later. Take ‘Merlot’ for example. In bud it’s a dusky, burgundy beauty; there’s violet in there, plus a deep, smoky-rose that reminds me of Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’. I find myself aching for better words to try and explain its beauty. Cheek-by-jowl with the rosewood glow of ‘Continental’, the pairing exudes class, restraint and understated glamour. Then ‘Merlot’ opens, catching the sun, and all that aching sophistication is replaced by a glossy berry compote, juicy with shades of raspberry, elderberry and loganberry. Absolutely mouthwatering. Indoors, at lower light levels, the flowers lose much of their uniqueness, which is why I generally prefer not to cut them. That’s just one tulip, inadequately described, and yet I am exhausted in my quest for the right words to commend it to you. My advice is to grow more tulips next year and experience their multifarious dimensions first hand. It’s the only way to truly appreciate them. TFG.
From top to bottom: ‘Exotic Emperor’, ‘Madonna’, ‘Supri Erotic’, ‘Hemisphere’, ‘Peppermint Stick’ and ‘Pretty Princess’