I struggle with tulips

I love tulips.

But not like this:

Tulip beds at Keukenhof, Amsterdam

Tulip beds at Keukenhof, Amsterdam

 

Or this:

masses

 

Or this:

redyellow

 

A blogger at Oklahoma U described the red and yellow tulips above as “pieces of happy.”  They don’t make me happy, they make me queasy.  My friend Judith calls the combination “ketchup and eggs.”  I don’t like ketchup and eggs in the garden any more than I like them on my plate—which is not at all.

I like tulips two different ways.

(1) One type or colour of tulip massed for drama, like these purple flags at the front of the A bed or the red ones at the back:

Purple flag tulips with white arabis in antiquities bed, May 2014

Purple flag tulips with white arabis in antiquities bed, May 2014

 

Red tulips in antiquities bed, May 2014

Red tulips in antiquities bed, May 2014

 

(2) Complex combinations, like this one created by Naomi Schillinger, who blogs in London at Out of My Shed

 

Queen of the Night (the tall, almost black ones) with Curly Sue (the smaller, ruffle-edged raspberry ones), Ballerina (the flashes of orange), and a paler double raspberry blush whose name I don't know

Queen of the Night (the tall, almost black ones) with Curly Sue (the smaller, ruffle-edged raspberry ones), Ballerina (the flashes of orange), and a paler double raspberry blush whose name I don’t know

 

Creating a pleasing tulip combination in a mixed perennial bed isn’t easy.  At least, it isn’t easy for me.  For one thing, I need to see a plant in context to know where to plant it.  A bulb’s planting context is quite different from its blooming context.

Also, I move plants around a lot.  Call it editing or indecision, but bulbs often hitch-hike in other plants’ roots.

I have a clear mental picture of the complex, subtle combination of tulips I want in the two beds in front of the house.  Each fall I add a few tulips to the mix.  April promises perfection with green shoots pushing up through the soil.  In May, the tulips bloom, and my heart sinks.  All my cardinal tulip sins are present: discordant combinations, single-file rows, the dreaded ketchup and eggs.  Instead of subtle, complex coherence, I’ve orchestrated a cacophony.

Tulip disaster in the front walled bed, May 2013

Tulip disaster in the front walled bed, May 2013

I snap photographs and make careful notes about which bulbs need to move where in the fall.  In September, though, the beds are chock full of late bloomers.  Digging bulbs then, if not impossible, would be a crime.

So this week I’m trying something radical: I’m digging up blooming tulips and moving them around the garden!

The “Jimmy” Triumps, which look red in the photo above but are actually a pretty orange blaze tinged with red and yellow (nothing like ketchup and eggs) will be spread across the two front beds in what I hope will be a more pleasing composition.

Everything else comes out.  The various yellows, which I thought would look so lovely with the Jimmies but instead resemble my least-favourite breakfast, will migrate into the Oudolf main.  I’ll set the Spring Greens aside in containers to plant in the new shade bed once I dig it.  The nameless reds will join their tribe in the A bed.  The Queens of the Night and the pink and purple ruffled doubles (Angelique and Blue Diamond) will move to the west foundation bed, where they’ll harmonize with Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle), Dicentra formosa (Pacific bleeding heart) and the glossy, wine-coloured undersides of Ligularia dentata “Desdemona” leaves.

One day after the first uprootings, these beauties have hardly skipped a beat:

DSCN0310

The Blue Diamonds, on the other hand, are having some trouble holding up their heads:

DSCN0315

 

The proof will be in next spring’s pudding.  Until then, a girl can only dream.

 

 

4 Responses to “I struggle with tulips”

  1. Brenda Stephens

    Good way to do it Leslie. I might try that myself. My tulips are a big mish mash.

    Reply
  2. commatologist commatologist

    I hope it works, Brenda. Almost all of the wisdom I’ve found on the topic warns against it. Apparently it’s hard on the bulbs – not to mention it makes a hell of a mess of the spring flower beds! But I figure it’s worth a try.

    Reply

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