October 6, 2008 at 11:22AM
by Leslie Land
Tulip or Not to Tulip? That is the question. Happens every year, as dazzlers never seen at the florist beckon from page after glossy catalog page.Tulip and daffThis little vignette (Cummins tulip and narcissus Pipit) appears to be part of a landscape planting. Its actually in the fenced truck garden, in the front section of a cutting peony bed so the bulbs arent tying up space that should be allotted to food.
In addition to being beautiful (and frequently fragrant), tulips are inexpensive; the more you buy the cheaper they are. Theyre easy to grow in fact almost impossible to screw up and in spite of the general wisdom, they often come back
These Giant Darwin hybrids have been around for so many years I no longer remember what they are. Probably Parade, famous for returning almost as dependably as daffodils.
On the other hand ---
Deer. I need say no more to anyone who has tried to have tulips in deer country (i.e., anywhere outside of midtown Manhattan). So the huge downside is that you must plant them where they can be protected, a drastic reduction in design options.
- Given that if you like tulips at all, youd like a few thousand dollars worth, it pays to start with a firm budget and write down must-haves before opening the catalog. Saves a lot of disappointed crossing out when completing the order form.
- Keep an eye on bloom times. Theres an 8- or 9-week stretch between the low-growing Kaufmannianas and the last big blowsy Parrots.
- If youve never seen them in person, be wary of Greiggi tulips. They do have terrific foliage: broad, heavily-striped dark leaves that put other tulip leaves to shame, but (at least to me) theyre a disaster in the proportion department. Those beautiful leaves stay low to the ground, cradling stems too short for cutting topped with very big flowers. The flowers themselves are perfectly fine but the total effect is ... well, clunky is putting it mildly.
- The drier it is during the summer, the better the chances of tulip return. Try to plant them someplace that doesnt get watered and dont be afraid to plant them in soil thats a little too well-drained for most other plants.
- Tulip leaves feed tulip bulbs; seed-production depletes them. Deadhead and fertilize if youre after longevity, and dont expect much in the way of returns if you cut flowers with long stems.