Blooming Times – Crazy In Love
by Flo Whitaker
Only a lunatic would plant tulips in heavy Wealden clay. Flo Whitaker invites you to join her on the bonkers bench.
Wild tulips occur over a vast range that stretches all the way from Afghanistan to Russia. Medieval explorers reported home to incredulous wide-eyed Europeans of the astonishing flowers they had seen in the mountains of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, and when tulips first arrived on Dutch shores in the 1590’s, they created a sensation. Tulip addicts gambled away fortunes. A few became rich – most did not. Overcome by greed and a mania for those must- have blooms, they lost their homes, businesses and reputations.
Tulip bulbs tolerate the cold – what kills them is water-logging. All garden tulips originate from those wild ‘species’ forms that are found in alpine meadows and mountainous regions; where winters are harsh but relatively dry. Come spring, the moisture from melting snow triggers the plants into growth. The meltwater nourishes the bulbs, but quickly drains away through gravelly soil. Our Wealden clay does the exact opposite; holding rainwater and becoming ever-more sodden throughout winter. This is why many garden tulips never appear in spring – the bulbs have simply rotted away. You could easily be excused for giving up on tulips and I sometimes wonder if it would be cheaper to bury £20 notes, but there are a few tips that make the life of a tulip maniac a little more bearable.
Firstly, don’t even consider planting tulips into soil that you know to be wringing wet in winter. You can’t change the situation, so don’t attempt the impossible – it’ll only make you miserable!
Rockeries, also flower beds situated close to a building or wall will be drier (masonry absorbs moisture from soil), and tulips will enjoy these conditions better. A layer of grit added to planting holes will help prevent rainwater from ‘pooling’ around precious bulbs.
Tulips can be planted late. As long as you store them in cool, dry conditions, delaying planting until November, or even December will be fine. Patio pots, with their free-draining soil are perfect for tulips and wall flowers enjoy drier soil too, so combine them for stunning, fragrant displays.
Some species of tulips are forgiving of our climate and can make extremely long-lived colonies. They are early risers, flowering from mid-February onwards and their nectar-rich blooms provide a welcome breakfast for emerging bees. If you visit a stately home in springtime and find yourself marvelling at a vast swathe of mauve crocus-shaped little tulips toughing it out in rough grass, they’re probably ‘bakeri’ – a species that positively thrives in the UK. There’s no need to sell off your chattels and await the call to the debtors prison. A pack of these beguiling beauties will only cost a fiver, but, take care. Tulips have a way of stealing your heart – and your wallet.