It’s Tulip Time


It happens every April – I am bewitched by the simple greenness of everything. That luminous fresh lime green that begins speckling the hedgerows this month until by its end, the trees and all the hedgerows are fully out and clothed in blossom. Certainly nothing characterises April as much as the range of greens that shine like stained-glass windows. Sheer exhilaration.

Whilst I love the delicacy of many early spring flowers such as primroses and cowslips, there is something so joyful about the intensity of tulips. They are the first real blaze of colour of the year – I adore them.

The very first tulips to flower here at Columbine are the species tulips ‘Tulip sylvestris’. I planted these around five years ago in our New Orchard and they grow back happily each spring with buttercup-yellow flowers.

After the species tulips, the earliest to bloom here next is ‘Prinses Irene’ which has a chocolate stem and orange petals flushed with pink and streaked with plum and a touch of green. And one of my absolute favourites ‘Exotic Emperor’ (see photo) which flowers for at least six weeks and looks good from the moment the buds begin to develop until it is almost dropping. It has large double white flowers with a delicate green flame. A magnificent tulip. I highly recommend it.

Parrot tulips come next and have frilly, fuzzy edges and always look to me as though they are caught in the middle of exploding out a rich splash of satiny colour. We have ‘Black Parrot’ which is actually a deep purple rather than black. ‘Rococo’ is a splash of crimson and ‘Flaming Parrot’ has pale yellow flowers flamed with a raspberry streak.

The lily-flowered group is less flamboyant but another of my favourites. It includes the wonderful pure white ‘White Triumphator’ which we have growing under our pleached limes with cow parsley – a dreamy combination.

The last to flower and the last to stop flowering here is ‘Queen of Night’ along with ‘Recreado’ and ‘Black Hero’ – both very good, dark tulips.

Most tulips will only produce one good flowering bulb each year together with a number of smaller bulbs called bulbils. These may take a few years to develop a bulb big enough to flower, which is why tulips left in the ground tend to get smaller and more numerous each year. It is best to top up the display or buy completely fresh bulbs each year.