Although it could be argued that the garden in November is winding down ready for winter it is in fact one of our busiest months for preparing for next seasons spring show.
We do have a lot of hardy perennial bulbs that return year after year but find that most of our tulips do not survive more than one season and do not flower well in their second year.
Each year therefore we have great fun browsing the catalogues and selecting our colour combinations. Our aim is to achieve a succession of flowering through the season and also have striking colour combinations at any moment in time. It is not all about the tulips though and combining the tulips with wallflowers, alliums, violas, camassia and other spring blooms can create a much more interesting effect than tulips alone.
Rather pleasingly we have had some decent spells of dry weather this year allowing us to plant all the bulbs in good time (using our new Powerplanter gadget in many cases). All we need now is a good spell of cold winter weather to encourage the tulips to produce long stems and hope that the spray we use to keep the squirrels at bay works well. Fingers crossed!
After the excitement of designing the spring colour scheme and planting out the tulips in the autumn we rarely reflect on how well each of the individual varieties worked out in practice. So, this year things will be different! The aim here is to record how they performed so that we can actually remember what did well when we come to sit down with the catalogues next year.
It is important to remember that our garden is just outside Warwick in the UK Midlands. Further south flowering is likely to be earlier and towards the north of England and into Scotland flowering will be considerably later. Equally because we are about as far away from the sea as you can get in England we are probably drier than the far west but wetter than the east. This winter (2017/18) does appear to have been particularly wet here in Warwick.
We usually plan our tulips so that we will have as long a flowering period as possible thus allowing us to cut regularly for bouquets and other arrangements. Typically we will see a steady progression from the very early, early , mid-season and late tulips flowering from mid-March through to May.
This year things haven’t worked out in quite such an orderly fashion. As usual the Kaufmanniana tulips (Ice Stick) and Greigii tulips flowered first (Vanilla Cream) flowering around the 6 April.
The very cold spring followed by the blast of heat on 18th and 19th April brought most of the remaining tulips out at the same time (c. 20th April). From a gardening perspective this created a wonderful explosion of colour but as a flower grower it meant that we had a glut of flowers with a very limited period for sales. We appear to have lost the usual differentiation between early, mid-season and late this year.
Our photographic records from 2014 show that the Kaufmanniana tulips were in bloom on 31 March (as opposed to 6 April this year), the early Purissima tulips on 31 March also whilst the bulk of the mid-season tulips were flowering by 11 April (as opposed to 20 April this year). Despite what has seemed a very cold season these records indicate that we have only really seen a lag of about 1 week on previous years.
For each of the varieties we have measured a typical stem length and compared it with the projected height in the original Parkers catalogue. As florists and flower growers the length of the stem, the quality of the bloom achieved and whether they are early, mid-season or late tulips is vital and will determine whether we plant the same variety again next year.
Our stem length measurements only provide an indication and are taken at a typical cutting stage of maturity. In reality tulips continue to grow even after they have been cut. This feature does make creating formal wedding bouquets with tulips particularly challenging. If you prepare a bouquet the night before an event the tulips will have grown by morning undermining the design and shape.
La Belle Epoque
Overall, despite the cold spring and slow growth the tulips have pretty much all achieved the expected stem length. Three varieties, Brown Sugar, Pretty Woman and Slawa, seem to have done particularly well and grown some way beyond the projected height.
For some reason Black Hero and Apricot Parrot don’t seem to have come up at all.
Typically we would treat our tulips as annuals planting out new bulbs in the autumn and digging them up after flowering. To get the longest stems many of the bulbs are pulled out of the ground when we harvest the flowers.
There are a few, however, that seem to be more perennial than the rest. These include the Kaufmanniana and Greigii tulips and we have also retained a large clump of what we think is Jan Reus which seem to have established themselves well.
Very few of the varieties have suffered (in terms of bloom quality) from the cold, wind and rain. We grow all of our tulips outdoors.
Storage and holding
Because the tulips have all come together we have had to hold some cut tulips so that they were available for later weddings. To do this we cut and condition the flowers as usual and then wrap them tightly in brown paper to keep them straight. They are then stored flat in a cool refrigerator (out of water) until needed.
When you get them out of the fridge they do tend to look pretty sad and floppy but you will be amazed how they perk up. Simply re-cut the stems, re-wrap in brown paper to keep them straight and place in cool, fresh water to rehydrate overnight. By the morning they will be turgid and fresh looking and ready to use.
Around the garden
The individual blooms are lovely but combining them with other complementary flowers in a garden setting really brings them to life (see Spring sunshine and tulips in full bloom for the full picture).
Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.
April is definitely a month of fresh spring yellow and today’s Six-on-Saturday post celebrates some of the plants that are currently at their best here in Warwickshire.
One: April would not be April without daffodils. Common as they are there are some charming miniature varieties out at the moment in the garden. This one is ‘Jenny’.
Two: The tulips do seem to be late getting going this year. However, the cold winter weather should yield strong, tall blooms for cutting. For us one of the earliest tulips to appear are the Kaufmanniana varieties. This one is ‘Ice Stick’. It stands tall, swaying strongly in the wind and stands up to the April showers well. Whereas many of our tulips have to be treated as annuals and replanted each year, Ice Stick seems to be more long lasting coming back well year after year.
Three: My third choice is a plant that is so widely grown that it is often overlooked. But, at this time of year the Forsythia is in its prime. The large shrubs create a spectacular show that brightens the spring garden without fail.
Four: Next on my list is a charming tree that always makes me smile, is rather fleeting, but is instantly recognisable – Pussy Willow.
Five: The small violas we planted in the Autumn have been flowering quietly for most of the winter. Now the temperatures are beginning to rise they are starting to grow away strongly and will continue flowering well into early summer.
Six: My final choice from the garden is another type of tulip which only started to flower late this week, Greigii Tulip ‘Vanilla Cream’. This fresh, pale yellow early tulip is again one that seems to be more perennial than most coming back strongly each year.
It has actually been quite difficult to limit myself to six this week. Also out at the moment are the primroses, yellow hyacinths and a host of other narcissus varieties. Indeed some of the so called ‘weeds’ like dandelions and celandine are giving a wonderful show in the more wild parts of the garden.
The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but there is still a great deal of planning and preparing to be done in the flower garden before the winter sets in. Work done now will reward us in the spring.
There are so many tulip varieties available that you can almost create any colour effect or combination that you want. What’s more, as a cut flower grower, choosing the right varieties can provide you with blooms from late March through April and into May.
Not only do tulips come in a stunning colour palette but there are a wide range of shapes and sizes including singles, doubles, lily types, fringed and parrots. Anna Pavord in her book “Bulb” lists 15 divisions of tulips and provides a fascinating background to the history and development of each type.
Spoilt for choice
So where do you start when the choice seems to be endless? Probably the three key things to think about are colour, height and flowering times.
Do you want muted complementary colours in a range of shades/tints or striking, contrasting colours to give impact on dull spring days? Do you want to plant in flower borders with tall stemmed varieties at the back and shorter ones to the front or perhaps plant up tubs with some of the more dwarf varieties? If you will be cutting for flower arranging you will probably want a stem length of upwards of 45cm and ideally 55-60cm.
Ideally you want to create a show that progresses smoothly through the season with one or more varieties flowering in the same period and look good together. We have listed some of the varieties that we have used in the past in our Flower Library portfolio on Pinterest. As well as some of the tulip varieties we have grown, the March and April flower libraries also show other flowers that are out at the same time and, when planted together with the tulips, create more interesting flower combinations of texture and form than simply using tulips alone.
If you are interested in cutting for the house or doing your own wedding flowers our selection of spring bouquet examples on Pinterest will also show how these might be put together for great effect. If you are a grower and event florist and selecting flowers for next years’ weddings then you need to choose colours that are currently popular with brides. Keep an eye on emerging trends.
Planting for 2018
One of the difficulties of writing a blog post about planting tulips is that we have no pictures yet of how our vision is going to turn out. Next year when they flower we will post again on this!!
In anticipation these are some of the combinations that we are planting out at the moment across the garden:
Burgundy “Jan Reus” and orange “Ballerina” tulips together with “Blood Red” and “Fire King” wallflowers.
Perennial Hardy Bulb: Planted in November tulips will certainly be hardy enough to come through the winter. However, we have found that very few of the tulips come back with the same vigour in subsequent years and it is worth digging them up after flowering and planting a new set the next year. Many small scale British growers of tulips have reported that replanting in the same area over a number of years can lead to catastrophic problems with tulip diseases.
Origin: Central Asia
Height: 35-60cm. It has been our observation that in warmer winters our tulips tend to have short stems than if they experience a colder winter.
Flowering period: March to early May
Planting: We plant our tulips around November time. If you plant too early then the bulbs may be more susceptible to disease. Tulips like to be planted quite deeply (at least 4 inches) and in tubs you can plant in deep lasagna layers to get a success of flowers over a longer period of time if you choose your varieties carefully. The squirrels also love to dig them up and we have found that spraying or dusting the bulbs with mammal repellent before covering works extremely well.
Cut flowers: Yes, long lasting. Something to remember here is that tulips continue to grow once arranged. Beware that if you create a wedding bouquet the day before with tulips in it you may find that in the morning all the tulips have extended.
Conditioning: Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours. Keep the stems straight by wrapping bunches in paper as they can bend very rapidly.
Holding back: It is possible if cut early to hold back tulips. After conditioning, wrap in newspaper and place in a refrigerator. Make sure that they do not freeze. We have held tulips back like this for at least a couple of weeks when we have needed them for a later wedding. When you want to revive them (they will look limp and uninviting at this point) place them in fresh water with flower food (in their wrapping) until they are turgid and looking fresh once again.