It's tulip season. I do pots holding a dozen bulbs each to go by the formal pond opposite the front door. For many years they were a confetti of hot colours, chosen to try and get some colour over as many weeks as possible, then I shifted tack to fewer varieties to get more of a massed display while they were out. Last year I experimented with pink and yellow, but this year it's back to the reds and purples. I like them, and any bulbs big enough to be worth planting out when I come to empty the pots can go in the dahlia bed with all the other red and orange tulips from earlier years.
'Ile de France' is a new one for me this year. It is a Triumph type, a very tulip shaped tulip with classic, flat bottomed goblet shaped blooms. Described by supplier Peter Nyssen as cardinal coloured, I would call them a deep cherry red. Backlit so that the sun shines through the petals they absolutely glow. They opened at the same time as 'Jan Reus', a variety I have grown before and like very much. Its flowers are a deep, satisfying burgundy. Opening a couple of days later but overlapping enough for it not to be an issue came 'Havran', another Triumph, providing a sombre bass note of dark purple. It provides a nice contrast of shape with the other two, having elegantly pointed petals.
The only one I am not quite sure about is 'Cairo'. The orange petals with subtle bronze streaking looked so pretty on the screen, but in the flesh are slightly muddy, and opened significantly later than the others. Maybe next time I will go back to the elegant, lily flowered 'Ballerina', a beautiful warm orange and a good doer, with the corresponding advantage that the bulbs are relatively cheap. I must think carefully about dates. Two or three years ago I grew an absolutely beautiful, clear, soft orange variety so if I looked back through my old orders I might be able to work out what it was and when it would come out.
In the gravel I've been planting out the pots of Tulipa hageri 'Splendens' to add to the existing display. They are relatively tall for dwarf tulips, which used to bother me slightly whereas now I like them better than the ground hugging Tulipa batalinii varieties. Ones tastes vary, and in a couple of years I may change my mind again. T. hageri 'Splendens' has burnt orange flowers with buffy yellow streaking and a jaunty growth habit, slightly more relaxed than the big hybrids. I have it growing next to a large and wandering patch of Libertia peregrinans, which has bronze and orange streaked foliage that goes very well with the tulip flowers, apart from the way that the Libertia, which is well named being very peregrinating, tends to wander across the clumps of tulips. The Libertia's habit of growth it to send up discrete clumps of its sword shaped leaves at intervals, and if the tulips were content to live in the gaps all would be well, but they find the competition a bit much.
I'm also planting the more dwarf variety 'Little Princess', or rather bulbs supplied to me as 'Little Princess'. They have been flowering away in their pots by the greenhouse and the flowers were perfectly attractive but had quite a lot of pink in them, whereas 'Little Princess' is described as being orange-red, copper-orange, or dark orange with a rosey flash, according to which catalogue you believe. Flower colours are difficult to describe or photograph, and can vary depending on growing conditions, and perhaps they are 'Little Princess', but I'm not convinced. I am no tulip expert, though, and don't honestly know. I didn't get the bulbs from Peter Nyssen but from a small firm that started up fairly recently, and somebody whose garden I visited last year mentioned that they had had a mislabelled bag of tulips from that firm. They knew enough about tulips to know from the appearance of the bulbs that it was the wrong variety, even before planting them and seeing what came up, and the supplier refused to admit that the customer might know about that particular plant and might be right that it was mislabelled. Of course, most UK bulb merchants don't grow their own tulips but import them from Holland, and as the expert gardener said, when you are the new kid on the block you aren't going to get the pick of the crop from the Dutch growers.
On the terrace (or patio) I've got tulip 'Fur Elise' flowering away. This is a Greigii type, smaller than the Triumphs and starting earlier, and is extraordinarily pretty, with flowers in a soft shade of yellow tinged with apricot, not acid at all, and nice purple markings on its leaves. I am very fond of the Greigii and Kaufmanniana tulips, the only trouble is finding anywhere in the garden where they might naturalise afterwards.