I love tulips.
But not like this:
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:
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.
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:
The Blue Diamonds, on the other hand, are having some trouble holding up their heads:
The proof will be in next spring’s pudding. Until then, a girl can only dream.