The garden in May is dominated by displays of tulips, and on my allotment the front border is packed with a mixed show of tulips of every colour. Every year I buy in new bulbs in the autumn for tubs and flower beds. I try to match up tulips to the spring bedding plants for colour and height so tall tulips go with my wallflower, but I use dwarf tulips with polyanthus, myosotis and pansies.
I am also always tempted by new varieties to try out somewhere, though some of the older standard types such as Apeldoorn are very hard to beat.
The Dundee Parks Department, where I did my training in the sixties, planted tulips by the thousand in parks, town centre, libraries, highways and tubs in streets. In those days, colourful flower beds were everywhere and Dundee had well trained gardeners who took great pride in keeping up very high standards. We soon learned about the different types of tulips and how best to match them up with bedding. You never forget your training and although you can now only work on a garden scale it still gives a great feeling to see successful mass planting of tulips.
However it is sad to see so few flower beds in our once beautiful city.
Types of tulips
Tulips are classified by type, species and also flowering time.
The first ones to flower are varieties of Greigii such as Cape Cod and Red Riding Hood, and varieties of kaufmanniana such as Scarlet Baby and Concerto all flowering in late March. These make perfect companion plants for early flowering Pulmonaria and Anemone blanda.
Then in April the fosteriana types such as Red Emperor and dazzling white Purissima begin to flower. Red Emperor can be very attractive planted underneath a Forsythia shrub as the red tulip contrasts brilliantly with the yellow forsythia, both flowering at the same time.
In May the bedding tulips have their day starting with the single early Bellona, a bright yellow, Princess Irene, an orange and White Marvel. These can all be planted with wallflower, but for mixing in with Myosotis and pansies try the dwarf double early tulips such as Peach Blossom, William of Orange and Vuurbaak a very old but brilliant red variety.
However for impact with size and brilliance you must plant the tall Darwin Hybrids such as the bright red Apeldoorn, and Golden Apeldoorn as well as Orange Sun.
Triumph tulips flower in mid May then in late May the single late tulips such as Queen of the Night, the Black Tulip, flower.
To complicate the types we also have parrot tulips, lily flowered tulips, multi headed tulips, fringed tulips and many tulip species.
In autumn always buy a decent sized tulip bulb and plant it about six inches deep into good well composted soil. Keep beds fed, watered and weeded, then after flowering leave for as long as possible before lifting the bulbs and dry off on a hard surface. If the bulbs are growing in their own space let them wither naturally and do not lift them. Over time they will multiply and form a group giving a bigger display each year. Once bulbs have dried off clean them up removing old stems and roots and store them in a dry cool place. In autumn replant all the biggest bulbs to flower next spring, but retain all the wee bulbils and plant them somewhere so they can grow on into bigger bulbs to flower a couple of years later.
Plant of the week
Wallflower is a perfect spring flowering bedding plant giving a blaze of colour in May and usually underplanted with tall tulips. I grow Cloth of Gold as its bright yellow colour is a great match for red or purple tulips, and wallflowers have a wonderful scent. One packet of seeds should give you about sixty plants. Sow them outdoors at the end of May, then when four inches tall lift and transplant them into nursery rows allowing about another four inches between plants. In autumn you should have sturdy well branched plants ready for bedding out.
Tulip Carnaval de Nice is an acrylic painting on canvas showing one of my special tulips growing in my winter garden. When in full bloom it was so outstanding I just had to capture it on canvas.
This painting will be on display with many others in my exhibition in the Angus Open Studios event from 23 to 27 May when I team up with fellow artist Fiona Haddow at her studio in Liff.
Details and directions can be found on the internet at www.angusopenstudios.com