We're well into the tulip season here, and the big tulip pots haven't worked out quite as well as I'd hoped. They haven't gone disastrously wrong, in that all the bulbs have come up and and look healthy enough, positively blooming, one might say, but the timings haven't worked exactly.
I have fourteen tulip pots. A few years back Whichford Pottery used to offer a ten per cent discount off anything in the range ordered early in the year. Presumably trade was slack then, Christmas being over and the weather not conducive to people thinking about their gardens. Over a period of about three years I built up a set of matching pots, not too tall and fairly plain, slightly flared and decorated with a basket weave lattice. They seem to have discontinued the exact model, but since they have also hiked their prices and changed the New Year offer to a discount on selected items only I probably wouldn't be buying more anyway.
In previous years I have done a jumble of varieties, only one per pot but every pot different, in a hot palette of reds, oranges, purple and the odd shot of bright yellow. This year I decided on a different colour scheme, pink and yellow, and limited myself to only three varieties, a pink Darwin, a pale yellow Darwin, and a lily flowered tulip that combined pink and yellow, fifty each of the Darwins and eighty of the lily flowered, giving me four pots each of the single coloured varieties and six of the bicolour.
Darwin tulips are big, solid looking, and have flowers of the typical tulip shape. They are said to last in the ground from year to year better than many large flowered tulips. The flowers of the lily flowered varieties have pointed petals, and are slightly nipped in to a waist in the middle. The effect is very graceful, and I thought it would contrast well with the sturdy Darwins.
Except that they have not all come out at the same time. First to open was 'Pink Impression', which is probably half way through its flowering period by now. The yellow 'Ivory Floradale' was a few days behind, and the pink and yellow 'Elegant Lady' is still in bud with no colour showing, and I don't think will be out before the other two have gone over. It means I'll have some tulip pots on display for longer, but the aim was to have more of a concentrated burst, and get the contrasting flower shapes, while 'Elegant Lady' was supposed to tie the colours of the other two together. It hasn't worked out like that.
Individually the two Darwins are very nice. 'Pink Impression' is a strong middling pink, but has that Rothko-like tulip quality of not really being the same colour all over. I like it and wouldn't mind growing it again. 'Ivory Floradale' has come out more yellow and less ivory than I was expecting, but is an attractive pale yellow buttery colour, again with that shimmer of colour variation across the petals. Really I like tulips very much. If I were terribly rich I would have many more than fourteen pots of them. 'Elegant Lady' remains to be revealed, though I'm sure I've admired her at Chelsea over the years. She won't do as a companion for the Darwins, however.
'Pink Impression' and 'Ivory Floradale' both have absolutely huge, floppy leaves. Fergus Garrett warned of this in his lecture when talking about using tulips in mixed plantings, advising that we should avoid using those with big leaves because they were capable of shading out their perennial neighbours. When they trial new tulip varieties at Great Dixter before ordering them en masse one of the things they check for is the size of the leaves.
I suppose I could conduct miniature trials and do one pot each of varieties I'm thinking of using the next year, except that the excellent and good value Peter Nyssen sell their Darwins in a minimum of fifty bulbs. I could buy ready coordinated collections from somebody like Sarah Raven, but that would be much more expensive, and anyway it's more fun to come up with your own ideas. Though more so when they work.