10 terrific tulips to buy now and plant later for spring

Size does matter when it comes to bulbs so rush out and get the best varieties now before they are snapped up

A mixed basket of tulips from Angela Jupe’s garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston

A mixed basket of tulips from Angela Jupe’s garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston

 

It’s tulip time. Or rather, it’s time to buy or order bulbs of any of the best varieties of tulips if you want to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting your hands on them this autumn.

Otherwise, come November (the ideal time to actually plant tulip bulbs), all that you’re likely to find in stock are the also-rans, the oddballs and the most unlovely varieties of the tulip world that no one else wants because they’re hideously garish or inelegantly proportioned or horribly overbred or . . . You get my drift. The best varieties, on the other hand, are none of these things, combining elegant proportions with long-lasting, beautiful flowers atop strong, graceful stems.

Tulip ‘Cairo’ growing en-masse in Angela Jupe’s Offaly garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Tulip ‘Cairo’ growing en-masse. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Remember that when it comes to tulips, size really does matter. So always go for the biggest bulb size that you can get as these will give you the best and biggest flowers (12+ is the ideal). Once you’ve succeeded in getting hold of bulbs of your favourite varieties, resist the peculiarly overwhelming urge to toss them in a heap on the floor in the corner of the kitchen/ laundry/ hallway where they’ll lie forgotten and quickly deteriorate in the heat and bright light.

Instead place the bulbs somewhere dry, cool and dark such as a garden shed, ready for planting in late autumn. Come planting time (don’t worry, I’ll remind you) plant them deeply (ideally 25-30cm) in a sunny spot and into fertile, friable, well-drained soil. Yes, it does involve a little bit of faff but you’ll be very glad you did so come next spring .

A ribbon of Tulip ‘Cairo’ flowering in Angela Jupe’s Offaly Garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Ten great tulips to plant this autumn.

Tulip ‘Charming Beauty’: A tall, late, double-flowered (lots of petals) variety with voluptuously ruffled petals in shades of peach, apricot and buttery-yellow. A must-have tulip for the cut-flower garden, it reaches a height of 45cm. A mark of this tulip’s exceptional beauty is the fact that it’s one of only five tulip varieties sold by the well-known American flower farmer and best-selling author Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm. Her stock is already sold out but if you’re lucky you may find ‘Charming Beauty’ for sale in a good Irish garden centre. Alternatively, the bulbs can be ordered online from specialist suppliers (see below for a shortlist).

Tulip ‘Recreado’:With dark, single flowers in a rich shade of dark-purple, this single-late variety appears in late April/ May and is more reliably perennial than most. A long-flowering tulip that will lend drama to your mixed border or container garden, partner it with other tulip varieties in fruity shades such as ‘Merlot’ and ‘Paul Scherer’ for a berry-coloured effect, or zing it up with the sharply contrasting tones of the sweetly-scented, flame-orange, lily-flowered ‘Ballerina’.

Tulip ‘Brownie’: Another late-flowering, double variety with petals in the richest shades of deep orange, mandarin, toffee and copper, it looks like the equally gorgeous, singe-early variety Tulip ‘Cairo’ on steroids. Not very tall (40cm) so excellent in a large pot or container.

Tulip ‘Apricot Beauty’: If dreamy pastel shades are what you yearn for in the spring garden, then this tall, silver-salmon March-April-flowering variety is just the thing. Partner its lightly scented flowers with pale coloured, perfumed wallflowers such as ‘Sunset Apricot’ for a serene display. 

Tulip ‘Jan Reus’: A modern classic with long-lasting dark crimson flowers tinged with violet and covered in a silver sheen, this variety blooms in late April, reaching a height of 5Ocm.

Tulip ‘Cairo’. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Tulip ‘Angelique’: A frothy  ultra-feminine double-late variety with ruffles of pale pink petals this classic variety also makes a great cut flower, Blooming in late April/early May, it looks wonderful underplanted with forget-me-nots or in a mixed planting alongside the white-flowering double ‘Mount Tacoma’.

Tulip ‘La Belle Epoque’: Few other tulip varieties have provoked as much oohs and aahs of deep admiration as this one. Always one of the first to sell out, ‘La Belle Epoque’s faded-apricot-pink double flowers, which appear in late April/early May and reach a height of 45cm, complement any colour.

Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’: Another modern classic prized for its versatility, this late April-early May-flowering Triumph variety has rich copper-gold, scented flowers that reach a height of 55cm and look wonderful partnered with dark plum and claret-coloured varieties such as ‘Paul Scherer’. Will tolerate light shade.

Tulip ‘Chato’: With very large, deep -pink, double flowers gently flushed with green at the base, this variety is very reminiscent of a paeony. Its stately blooms appear in late March/April on 45cm tall stems and make an excellent cut flower.

Tulip ‘Red Shine’: Another reliably perennial tulip with very tall, crimson-red flowers that light up the garden in May. Long-lasting and graceful, this lily-type tulips looks at just as at home in a naturalistic, meadow setting as it does in a conventional mixed border.

Recommended Irish suppliers of tulip bulbs include Mr Middleton (mrmiddleton.com), Beechill Bulbs (bulbs.ie) and all good Irish garden centres. For organic bulbs, try Cork-based Fruithill Farm (fruithillfarm.com). Specialist online UK-based suppliers include Avon Bulbs (avonbulbs.co.uk), Peter Nyssen (peternyssen.com), Sarah Raven, De Jager (dejager.co.uk), fluwel.com.

This Week in the Garden

Tomato plants grown under cover should still be producing plenty of delicious fruit but at this time of year it’s important to reduce watering to a minimum and stop liquid feeding to encourage a good quality crop, Strip lower leaves away from the lower two-thirds of the stems  both to encourage good air ventilation and to allow autumn sunlight to ripen the fruit. Maintaining a good level of plant hygiene by removing damaged/diseased leaves and fallen fruit/leaves will also help to keep plants healthy. 

Late September is a good month to plant many kinds of shrubs and perennials as the damp, warm soil conditions encourage the quick establishment of healthy root systems. Another good reason to plant at this time of year is the fact that many Irish garden centres and nurseries hold sales or offer discounts on their stock. An example is well-known Mount Venus Nursery in County Dublin, whose annual autumn sale continues until October 1st with 20 per cent off all perennials, shrubs, trees and bamboos. See mountvenusnursery.com for details 

Unless your garden is a protected one in a mild part of the country, it’s time to think about taking in tender plants such as bedding fuchsias, pelargoniums argyranthemums, tender varieties of salvia and tuberous begonias to give them protection from frost and chilly winter winds. A glasshouse or polytunnel is the best spot to store them, bearing in mind that on exceptionally chilly nights, they may need extra protection in the form of layers of horticultural fleece or a small heater.

Dates For Your Diary:

Tuesday, September 26th (8pm): Foxrock Church Pastoral Centre, Dublin 18, ‘Autumn Flowering Perennials’ a talk by nurserywoman Rose Hardy on behalf of Foxrock Garden Club, admission €7, see foxrockgardenclub.com.

Saturday, September 30th (9am-5pm): CityWest Hotel, Saggart, County Dublin, Mr Middleton Garden Masterclass with guest speakers including the organic gardener, author and broadcaster Bob Flowerdew, Jimi Blake of Hunting Brook Garden, and Iain and Frances MacDonald of The Bay Garden, tickets €80 including lunch and morning refreshments, to book see mrmiddleton.com.

Wednesday, October 4th: Howth Yacht Club, ‘A Plant paradise’, a talk by Rowallane Garden’s head gardener Averil Milligan on behalf of Howth & Sutton Horticultural Society, see hshs.ie for details.

Thursday, October 5th, Friday 6th & Saturday 7th: Lissadell, Sligo, NIHGT 27th Annual Conference, ‘Historic Gardens, Restore, Preserve, Conserve, Making Choices’, with an array of notable guest speakers including Mike Snowden,   Neil Porteous, Brian Dix, Seamus O’ Brien, Catherine Fitzgerald, Adam Whitbourn and others, tickets from €70- €190, pre-booking essential, see nihgt.org for details.

Thursday, October 5th (8pm): Artane Beaumont Family Recreation Centre, Kilmore Road, Artane ,Dublin 5, ‘Autumn Flowers’, a talk by Marie Staunton on behalf of Dublin Five Horticultural Society. Admission €5, telephone 087-2423020 for more details.

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