Tulips, perennial or annual?

IMG_20160505_185433When discussing whether Tulips are annual or perennial I am actually referring to the large flowered hybrids readily available from the majority of bulb suppliers in all their many forms and not the diminuitive species selections such as Tulipa bakeri, linifolia, sprengeri which, if they like you, will multiply both vegetatively and by seed.

Sadly, in the flower field at Edmonds & Howard, we burn 99% of the bulbs after use.  This is due to the following: we mostly pull the flowers for extra length, this can often mean up to about 25cm extra stem length, thereby damaging the bulbs; many of the more blousy forms cannot be guaranteed to flower well the following year if left in situ particularly if summer is wet and we need the ground for Dahlias; Tulips left in the ground are more susceptible to Tulip Fire, a nasty disease which distorts leaves and flowers and is more likely to occur after lengthy wet seasons.  The ground becomes infected after this and tulips should not be grown in the same area for at least 3 years.  We rotate in the field so newly planted Tulip bulbs would only return to the same area after 3 years.

In our garden I do leave some in situ, this is mostly due to lack of time but I have had favourable results with some of the more simple forms.  Particularly perennial for me have been two lily forms, namely ‘Ballerina’ an elegant, luminous orange which looks fabulous with yallery-green Euphorbia bracts on characias wulfenii, polychroma and robbiae, add some blue Camassia leichtlinii ‘Electra’ and pure spring zing is achieved; the dark Tulipa ‘Burgundy’ has also been great, both have lasted over 3 years with no shrinkage in size (the ones I have lost of these have been dug up by the badger but am going to add more next year and cover them with wire cloches!) and this looks particularly good when teamed with the subtle colouring of Lamium orvala.

I have also had great success over three years with ‘Jan Reuss’ a late single of dark blood red with a real sheen to the petals.  Looks well when partnered with contrasting blue forget-me-nots or pale primrose Wallflowers and also harmonises well with the Wallflower ‘Blood Red Covent Garden’.  Two dark single Tulip have also stood the test of time, the old ‘Queen of the Night’ can’t be beaten, except perhaps by ‘Havran’ which is similar but larger and fuller in flower.  They both look dreamy when planted is association with the fragrant late Daffodil, Narcissus ‘Pipit’ of pale lemon colouration which is vigorous too and ordinary primroses, Primula vulgaris.  A reliable pale pink single Tulip for me has been Esther, a lovely soft colour.  I intend to plant some more of this and team it with the pretty double white Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ which does very well here.

I think part of the secret for these more perennial tulips lies in the depth of planting.  As with most Narcissus too, they should be planted deeply, 20cm down at least, which is a bit of a pain but worth it.  Sadly, unlike the Narcissus, they will not readily multiply but you can add more over time.  It is worth giving a try as lifting Tulips every year is time-consuming and rather wasteful.  Experimenting is what gardening is all about!

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