A Painterly Mix Of Tulips

tulips.jpgAnyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color.  The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint.  Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners.  Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips.   mixed-tulips.jpgI plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year.  It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups.  A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.

tulips.jpgA good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company.  Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time.  From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason.  They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.

tulip-mix.jpgThe next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view.  A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow.  In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while.  In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.

tulips 2014 (6)Choosing the colors is the most difficult part.  No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing.  Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red.  Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another.  The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal.  Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.

tulips 2014 (3)Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display.  This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations.  Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel.  The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations.  This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website.  The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well.  No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like.  That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed.    tulips 2014 (15)I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not.  They are all beautiful.  It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another.  I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together.  A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors.  The color rhythm is better, and less choppy.  Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme.  Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color.  Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others.  Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes.  Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.

tulip-mix.jpgA color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another.  25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend.  A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.


As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from.  But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.


  1. Patty Koenecke says

    I just want to come and pick a bunch! I use to have tons of tulips but I think something ate them. After our horrible winter here in WI, I was so looking forward to my tulips and I only have a handful, so it is pure joy to look at yours. Well Done!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Patty, I am in a well trafficked area-no deer. The heavy snow cover protected my tulips. The spring has brought a lot of trouble, but the tulips are genuinely beautiful. I regret your winter. I hope your summer will mean better things to come in your garden. Thanks, Deborah

  2. Gorgeous color blend

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks Christine. My record on blending tulips is mixed. But this year, I am happy with what I see. You should come and see them in person! Thanks, Deborah

  3. so funny, i spotted that yellow guy right away and wondered “Now why doesn’t she pull that!?” I’m a perfectionist gardener! French all the way! 😉

    • susan konkel says

      OCD….would have pulled yellow also….put it inside! lol

      • Deborah Silver says

        Dear Susan and Kelly, That one odd tulip out was so charming-I couldn’t bear to throw it away. I am not a very good editor! It is just about done blooming now, and will disappear from view soon. It is not a variety I have ever seen-go figure. Could it be a sport of one of the varieties in the garden? Should I propagate it? Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Kelly, I have a soft spot for the unexpected element contributed by nature. Some times I resent that nature bats last. In this case, I like it. I cannot edit like the French do. I haven’t the heart for that. Best Deborah

  4. Wow, this is lovely! I like the geometry that contains these luscious flowers : )

  5. I only have a small handful of tulips, but I’m always excited to see them come along for the year. They’re nothing like this impressive mass but still bring great joy in the garden or a vase.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, even the smallest group of tulips is a clear sign of spring. No matter the numbers, the color is a joy. Thanks, Deborah

  6. Wow! You plant this space with new bulbs each fall? Is that because you can’t get a good repeat bloom or because you just like to create a new look each year? I don’t plant tulips because of all the voles and squirrels but I’ve assumed that if I wanted a nice spring bloom I would have to plant a few hundred each year.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Nella, very few tulip varieties are really perennial. I like planting lots of them-they are so beautiful that way. We dig them up every year, and give them away. Deborah

  7. I recently moved to the country and planted some tulips which bloomed beautifully last year but this year were eaten presumably by hungry rabbits. Now we know why everyone around us has only daffodils lol. Our local garden nursery suggested botanical tulips. What do you think? I had never heard of them but happy to try so we can at least have some type of tulip. Thanks as always for your inspiration. Minda

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Minda, botanical tulips are much more persistent than other types. The big tulips do not come back so well. There is much to read about it on line-you have time to sort it out before it is time to plant bulbs again. Thanks, Deborah

  8. Beautiful, the yellow one looks like our marigolds in the South!

  9. I planted White Emperor last fall and they are absolutely gorgeous. Can I dig up the bulbs, save them, and replant next fall or do I need to buy new ones?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Buy a few replacements, and leave the ones you have in the ground until next year-and compare!

  10. Joyce Voyt says

    I have about 2000 tulips planted around the front and back yards and around the pool garden. Eight hundred were planted last fall. The colors are bold and bright as anything in spring needs to be. The effect is cheery but I’m not as impressed with my displays as I am with yours. Mine are more loosely spread out and meander through the gardens. When you plant them in a large grouping like that, do you plant in rows or stagger them and do you mix your selected bulbs altogether in a true and then plant whatever ends up in your hand? I may have to dig mine up and group them next fall.
    Thanks, Joyce

  11. Oh so pretty, and so modern! Pastels of pink, tangerine and yellow is certainly the rave. That high hedge really gives it a second dimension. Very brave color-choices, but it turned out sublime. I have more or less given up on tulips due to their fickle nature, but will write on octobers page to reconsider it. Hope you have a nice spring and summer to make up for your winter!

  12. absolutely stunning

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