Tulips For Mother’s Day

2015 tulips  3The tulips at the shop have been evolving over the past 3 weeks, when the first of them came into bloom.  How appropriate that they are usually about in full bloom on Mother’s Day.  My Mom would have loved it, and photographed them over and over again. I came in early today, so I could take my own pictures. I always plant a mix in front of the shop, as I plant lots of them. A minimum of three colors will make a good basic mix.

the 2015 tulips (4)There are other characteristics besides color that make up a good mix.  A mix of heights rewards the eye with flowers up, down, and in the midsection.  All the same type or class of tulips puts all the flowers at the same height. No matter whether you plant 20 or 200 tulips, there will be a horizontal band of green at the bottom, and a horizontal band of color at the top.  Tulips have big, splashy flowers, but I like to plant them close together. Choosing tulips of different heights means the individual flowers will read.

the 2015 tulips (6)Different classes of tulips bloom at different times. Creating a good mix of times is not quite as simple as planting an early, a mid season, and a late tulip.  A mix whose early tulip is finished before the mid season tulip comes on means the whole group will never be in full color for that one moment of tulip glory. For that reason, I usually include smaller numbers of a 4th and 5th-and maybe even a 6th tulip.    the 2015 tulip mix (6)Different types of tulips have different shapes-of course.  The classic mid season Darwin hybrid tulip flower is tall, and globular.  Single late tulips are very large, and more rounded in shape than the Darwins.  Lily flowered tulips have a lily shape-of course.  A variety of shapes keeps the mix interesting.

the 2015 tulips (1)Of course color plays a big part of the mix. Strongly contrasting colors makes for a very lively mix. Bright orange, bright yellow and white is a striking and dramatic mix.  That drama can be left as is, or tempered with pale yellow and peach. Pale violet or lavender added to this mix tones down the heat in a visually interesting way. Red would heat up the mix.  Leave out the white, the mix will smoulder. 1 part white to 1 part red yellow and orange will be sunny in a very springlike way.

the 2015 tulips (2)

Colors that are closely related make for a harmonious mix. Red and pink is a natural combination, as pink is red mixed with white.  In this scheme, there is a near warm white, a white flamed pink and red, a pale pink, a single late rose pink/red, and a medium pink.

the 2015 tulips (12)The varieties, from left to right:  World Expression, Silver Stream, Renown and Mariette, with Pink Impression at the bottom.

the 2015 tulips (13)There can be great color variations within an individual tulip.  Pink impression is a pale pink with blue overtones.  The midrib of each petal is darker than the body, and the edges of the petals are lighter than the body.

the 2015 tulips (15)World Expression and Silver Stream have the same two colors, though the color distribution is very different.  I think each of these tulips is all the better for its respective companion.

the 2015 tulips (11)The blooming of the tulips from start to finish is about 5, maybe 6 weeks.  I thoroughly enjoy that process, from the time the leaves emerge from the ground, until the last of the petals mature and fall. The flowers themselves are extraordinary.  I would always plant tulips for my Mom for Mother’s Day.  I would do my best to plant when she was not there, so she would not know what colors or where I would plant. I also schemed to be sure that the tulips were at their perfect best on Mother’s Day.  Though I rarely met that goal perfectly, the process of the selection, the planting, the anticipation of spring, and the blooming was a process we both enjoyed. I so appreciate that every time I see tulips in bloom, I think of her.

One Thing After Another


One thing after another usually refers to a string of events you’d rather do without.  The story of the tulips at the shop this spring sure started out that way.  They broke ground and grew as if they were possessed in March.  Alarming, this.  Though no one believed the hot weather would stay on, the tulips didn’t know this.  They were growing in a terrific hurry, as if they were late to the party.  Wow, what bad luck to show up to an event a month early.  Add to the mix-no rain.   Dry and hot would soon become dry and very cold.  

The semi double Darwin tulip Akebono was the first to bud, and show color.  Long about this time, the temperatures were threatening to drop dramatically.  As a precaution, we set horizontal bamboo stakes to just skim the tops of the plants.  I had ordered a roll of row cover, knowing that summer weather in March could not come to any good end.    

covering tender plants

Sure enough, the cold weather returned with a vengeance..  Snow on the tulips-not something you see every day.  We covered them for 4 nights in a row.    They hated this.  Though we had bamboo support for the cover, most every tulip bent over to the ground from the insult.

Of course, once we put the row cover and stakes away, the overnight temperatures threatened to dive again.  We spent plenty of time bringing tender plants into the garage. Late in the day, I watered the bed thoroughly, and misted all of the tops to boot.  The sight of ice on those tulips in the morning was heartstopping.  It seems impossible, but water gives off heat as it freezes.  I hoped the tulips themselves would be protected from frost. 


 It took 3 days, but those gangly stems finally stood up straight.  I had mixed the Akebono tulips with the late blooming Cream Jewel and the strong yellow Roi du Midi.  The later two had the good sense to lay low until the temperatures warmed some.

tulips in April

This is the best part of the mix.  Once the Akebono started to drop petals, the single late tulips were coming on strong.  One tulip after another can greatly extend the tulip season.  Most things in the garden come one thing after.  It doesn’t take so much to help a season to linger.  Plant multiple varieties of tulips, rather than one.

The fresh group just coming on distract the eye from the early bloomer-although many of the Akebono.are just reaching their best. Think relay race.  Or strength in diversity. Those double tulips handled the bad weather incredibly well; they have been in flower for three difficult weeks.  I can see they will start to decline soon.  The Cream Jewel is vigorously in full bloom, and the dark yellow Roi du Midi is just getting good. 

tulips in April

It looks like the tulips will peak by the end of April.  Stop by-they really are beautiful right now.

Tulip Time

I have not lost my marbles, thinking about tulip time in October.  This is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs.  My supplier sent me 22 emails today regarding the details of the UPS shipments of my bulbs. I plant lots at the shop.  I plant for clients too.  I wish I planted more.  It is very hard to appreciate the fragrance and beauty of spring flowering bulbs 8 months in advance of the event.  But I will try to express that-hoping it will encourage you to plant for spring.   

I hope my pictures encourage you to plant ahead. The one characteristic I admire most about gardeners the very most is their stubborn hope for the future.  A better garden next year.  A better spring for magnolias-next year.  The slip of a plant that becomes a major plant in a few years.  The spring to come.  Your spring is in your hands.   

Those brown tulip orbs of varying sizes represent a future garden.  Think about tulips, and move on.  There are lots of other spring blooming bulbs.  The spring anemone blanda bulbs are shrivelled peas when they arrive; soak them for 24 hours, and plant. The grape hyacinths are available in plenty of variations.  They are one of the longest lasting spring bloomers.   The tulip bulbs with their papery coating promise a plant with wide and luscious leaves culminating in a bloom of extravagant proportion.  Tulips fit into an established perennial garden as well. Order up plenty of those brown bulbs.    

There are many species and hybrids of tulips available, whose bloom time spans late April until late May.  They are  the showgirls of the spring garden.  After a Michigan winter, I am ready for their beautiful globular forms, their fresh fragrance, their supremely green stems and luscious leaves.  I am as grumpy about the fall as you are.  Our fall has been balmy so far-this is perfect planting weather.  Thinking about bulbs in late November-plant them in pots, in ther shelter of your own garage.      

This double tulip Akebono is exquisite.   My order of 100 bulbs last fall has been increased considerably.  A group of 10, or 25, or 110 planted in your garden this October will reward you handsomely next spring.     

Winter in the Midwest is a tough go.  Part of what gets me through that bleak season is the promise of spring.  Those various brown knobs and orbs, sequestered underground, ready to represent, once the snow melts, and the weather warms. No garden should be without tulips. I like to plant a mix in the big bed in front of the shop.  Next spring’s scheme will be very different than this.   

Should you have a perennial garden with but a few spaces available for tulip bulbs, there is always the option to pot them up the fall. A pot of tulips on the front porch in early May is a very good look.  It is easy to bring on potted tulips-give it a try.   

 Our winters are notable for the grey.  Grey skies, dirty snow, low temperatures.  Should you have a mind to emerge from the winter in fine style, plant some tulips. Plant lots of tulips.  Plant a fistful of tulips in an important spot. A plan for little color is in order, is it not?  This box of Oxford tulips was companion planted with yellow frittilaria.  Though the flowers are gone, the foliage looks great with the tulip flowers.  

No doubt it is hard to embrace the promise of a fresh gardening season right now.  Last spring’s pictures are helping to put me in the mood.    

Your local nursery has tulip bulbs.  John Sheepers has a complete range of tulips and other spring flowering bulbs available.  Becky’s Bulbs is a superb source.  October is time of choice in my zone to plant daffodils, hyacinths, anemones, tulips, grape hyacinths, and a whole other host of spring flowering bulbs.  If you are like me, you do not want to do without the snowdrops, crocus, chionodoxa, or hyacinthoides.  Part of preparing for winter is to make time for some tulips.  Plant what you can.

Treated To The Tulips

All of the cold tolerant spring flowers have their charms.  The pansies and violas come in every attitude from dainty and demure to bold and sassy.  The pale powder blue grape hyacinth pictured above, muscari Valerie Finnis, is a vigorous grower whose flowers last a long time.  Phlox intensia will last even longer; I have had it thrive an entire season.  But there is nothing quite like being treated to the tulips.  The pale pink variety pictured-Pink Diamond. 

Their forms and colors are many.  Their big simple shapes can make a big visual statement from just a few bulbs.  Bulbs wintered in the garage in fiber pots make great centerpieces for spring containers.  From the moment that the leaves emerge from the soil, to bloom is about three weeks.  The thick strappy leaves are just about as beautiful as the flowers.  The formation of seed pods, and the dying back of the foliage takes another month.  The entire process is beautiful to watch.   Pictured above, the multi-petalled Darwin hybrid Akebono, Spring Green, and the butter yellow Roi du Midi. 

I do have a soft spot for viridiflora tulips.  The white petals of the variety Spring Green are streaked with green.   The pink and green variety in this basket is called Virichic. Green and pink chic, indeed.  They bloom fashionably late in the spring, and their spiky shape is striking.  

Though the color of Princely Mix is very sweet, their staying power is considerable.  These compact clumps have been in bloom for better than 3 weeks.  Their short height makes them perfect for small containers; they are also likely to weather the worst of the spring rain and wind without damage.    

Choosing a mix of tulips for the big garden at the shop is great fun.  What I like the best about a mix is the possibility of great variation in height.  This gives you color at every level.  Violet Beauty-18″ tall.  The white tulip edged in violet is called Shirley; it grows 22″ tall.  The random hot pink lily flowered tulip Mariette also grows 22 inches tall, but its rarer appearance in the mix makes it seem different from all of the other tulips.  At 24″ tall, Cum Laude is the tallest of the purple tulips.  The white single late tulips Maureen grows to 28 inches.     

What would I do differently, if I had the chance?  That is a question I am always asking.  In this case, I would add a short white tulip.  Pale colors do a great job of highlighting darker ones.  So, 2 different heights of white tulips, 2 purples, one whte and purple bicolor,and the odd tulip out-a little hot pink seasoning here and there.  Most flowers are beautiful in their own right, but how they are arranged can make them look all the more lovely. The tulips fields in the Netherlands in bloom-show stopping in a different way.  Tulips being farmed have a much different appearance than tulips in a garden.

In this mix, flower size was equally as important as height.  Every plant has characteristics worth considering when a design is taking shape.  For example, it is easy to extend your tulip season greatly by choosing tulips from different classes.  The species tulips bloom a month earlier than the single late tulips.  I like the idea of  having a spring that goes on for three months, in one form or another.  

The Darwin hybrid tulip Akebono is a new one to me.  No doubt I will  have this again in bigger numbers.  I like to try a small amount of lots of bulbs-there is nothing better than seeing them bloom in person.  Choosing tulips can be tough.  They get planted as small papery brown spheres that give no hint as to what will come the following spring.  For that reason alone, I try to photograph all the tulips-so I have a record of what they can be.  Pictures of bulbs in catalogues can be notoriously misleading.   Photographic record keeping is an easy way to better inform your design.  This tulip with a  simply shaped, pale yellow firned and a spring green companion-that could be gorgeous.  Paired with red, orange, and hot pink tulips-visually electric. All by itself-just plain stunning.  If you are nearby, stop up for a look.  It is peak tulip treat week.