It’s Tulip Time!


Yes, I know it is August and there won’t be a tulip to view until spring, but I’ve learned from painful experience that if I don’t place my order early, often the perfectly colored, fragrant flower that fills a specific spot in terms of height and bloom time is no longer available. I don’t want to risk it, so I’ve already got my  orders ready and they’ll go off today.

I haven’t grown tulips, except for the short, very hardy species types for years because tulips are basically deer candy. When I first came to the farm, I planted quantities of tulips in the Cottage and Shade Gardens. Every spring, just as the buds were fat and nearly ready to open, the deer gobbled them off, leaving just a bare stem. As I planted fewer, the deer became greedier and devoured the entire plant. Stems and leaves completely disappeared just before bloom time. I gave up.

But now, I am enticed by the fact that the potager will be fenced, and hopefully the deer will be excluded.  And, because Plantskydd, a repellent spray I tested last spring gave good protection on various plants,  I’ll be using it extensively. And tulips belong in a potager because the flowers are edible.

I’ve spent hours studying catalogs and going over photos that I took at the Keukenhoff and other spring gardens, searching for just the right shades and trying to fit them into as long a blooming period as possible. Plus, I’m still looking for edgers, and some short tulips would be perfect. Remember, I have 780’ of edging just for the raised beds, and while not every bed will have an edger, there are front areas of borders in all the gardens around the house and containers for the front door and the deck to fill. Many of the species tulips have pretty, mottled foliage that will be attractive before and even for a while after the flowers are gone. Later, the dying foliage can be hidden by mounds of Spicy Globe basil or lacy carrots or parsley or lettuces.

So, with those goals and my color scheme in mind, I began studying the catalogs. I always begin with John Scheepers “Beauty from Bulbs” because it has glossy, glorious color photos and good descriptions. It’s a retail company that’s been in business since 1908. I put a check mark beside everything that is the right color on the first run through, my blood racing at this point and my head nearly exploding at all the glorious possibilities. I think bulb catalogs are the most tempting of all catalogs, probably because we know how very eager we will be for those first glimpses of green poking through the sometimes snow-dappled soil and how desperate we are to get the garden off to a beautiful start.

However, knowing that I can’t possibly afford everything, I begin reading the descriptions more carefully, grouping varieties on a list by height and bloom period. If there are two or more varieties that seem similar I let price be a factor, but usually it doesn’t get to that, because of the color scheme. I don’t want all the tulips that bloom mid-season to be deep orange. Some should be apricot or gold or bi-colors, just as not all the tall tulips should bloom simultaneously.  And anything in my color scheme that is fragrant gets priority.

After I get a good handle on the list, and have it fairly well balanced in all three categories (bloom time, height, color) I think of quantity. The varieties that I need 50, or 100, or more, become candidates for Scheepers’ sister company, the wholesale division, Van Engelen (same address.) Not all the chosen varieties will appear in that (photoless!) catalog, but those that are get moved to the VE list because they are cheaper. For instance, 100 Tulip clusiana var. chrysantha are only $12.25 wholesale from VE, but $29.00 retail from Scheepers. See why I’m keeping my business license and continuing to do shows so I can order wholesale? That particular tulip is a species (8”) circa 1928 that naturalizes. It is a vibrant yellow-flushed warm rose, which looks great with my brick house, and it will edge at least one raised bed in the potager. I’m also choosing T. batalinii “Bright Gem” (6”) as an edger, probably in the beds right at the entrance for their sulfur-yellow flowers flushed with warm orange because I can also get them wholesale. However, T. batalinii “Salmon Gem” is a new introduction (soft salmon-pink maturing to glowing bright salmon with long-lasting blooms, 6”) and not available from VE, so I’ll keep them on the JS list and only get 25 (16.75!) I love species tulips because they nearly always come back, year after year, and the clumps get larger so that eventually I can lift some bulbs and move them to additional locations. Taller tulips generally act as annuals for me.

Eventually, after a lot of pondering, debate, whittling, and revision, my orders are ready. Here’s what I’m hoping to receive this autumn for fall planting. From Van Engelen:

Tulip “Apricot Emperor” (50, early, 16”); T batalinii, “Bright Gem” (100, early, 6”); T. biflora (50, white with yellow center, fragrant, showy foliage 5”); T. clusiana var. chrysantha (100 described above); T. Greigii “Elise” (50, yellow and pink, early-mid 10”); T. Triumph “Salmon Pearl” (50, radiant salmon with a golden interior, fragrant, April-May,16”); T. Peony-flowered “Charming Beauty” (50, apricot-tangering, late April, 18”) ; T. “Antoinette”, a multi-flowering beauty (50, opening pale yellow, turning yellow with raspberry-toned edges, ripening to salmon orange, variegated foliage, 16″) That’s 500 bulbs.

The Scheepers list gets divided.  Why?  Because I really want to support another family-owned business, Brent & Becky’s Bulbs.  I met Brent & Becky through Garden Writers, and they are just terrific people.  I identify with folks who are struggling to keep a small business alive, and know how much work and sacrifice it takes, so I want to support them, too.  Brent is always so helpful in finding just the right bulbs for any situation, and their company is very give-back to not only their community, but to horticulture in general.  So, the following bulbs will be divided between them.

Tulip orphanidea flava (10, orange-apricot early-mid, 9”); T. “Princess Irene” (20, soft orange with purple tinges, fragrant, early, 12”); T. Triumph “Apricot Foxx” (20, April-May, two-toned apricot with buttery caramel edges, 20”); T. Darwin “Apricot Impression” (20, mid-season, smouldering tangering softening as it matures, 22”); T. Darwin “Daydream” (50, apricot changing to orange, mid-season, 22”); T. Lily-flowered “Ballerina” (50, late, bright orange, 24”); T. fringed “Aleppo” (20, late, raspberry with pale apricot fringed edges, 20”); T. Single late “Dordogne” (20, late, rose blending into tangerine orange near the petal edges, 26”) I saw this at Keukenhoff and said if I ever plant tulips again, I’d get it!  And, I try to have a few more late-bloomers, because many of the other spring-blooming bulbs have already finished, and they are less likely to be damaged by late frosts.  “Blushing Lady” is another heralded late-bloomer that I saw in Holland (20, sunset-flamed soft pink blending to soft yellow, lily-shaped, 30″)  That’s another 230.

tulip spidery

I’m still debating on the spidery tulips I saw in Amsterdam at the Hortus Botanicus.  What do you think?  I’m thinking that’s a whole lot of hole-digging this fall…..

Of course, that’s only the tulips. Next time we’ll talk small bulbs, daffodils, and other interesting spring bulbs that also need to be ordered SOON!

About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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1 Response to It’s Tulip Time!

  1. hoosierabroad says:

    Wow! That’s a lot of bulbs!!


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