Tulip Fever

A few rouge Darwin Tulips!

Planting bulbs is my favourite of all gardening jobs.

Normally I start planting my bulbs mid-September…..as soon as you feel that ‘nip’ in the air and the summer planting starts to collapse. Although this year with the late summer weather I have had to sit on my hands!

I always hold the Tulips back until November.

Tulips can suffer with virus so unless you have very free draining soil it is better to plant them in pots or lift them after flowering. This is the reason for planting them when it’s colder – the virus likes warm wet conditions.

I have been known to be planting right up to the end of January if I have come across bulb bargains in the sales!

Note: bulbs planted this late do not perform as well (despite what the seller tells you). I have found the bulbs are shorter and the flowers smaller than they should be HOWEVER if you feed them they perform as they should the following year so as long as you are happy to be patient you have a deal!

Hyacinths are a lot more forgiving and perform just as well whenever planted.

Bulb Bargains Tulips Jackpot doing much better year 2 boosted with Ronaldo (for early blooms), Rems Favourite and Queen of the Night in bud still to come ………..

I have spent the last few years doing bulb trials to work out which are the very best for my garden.

Tulips are the real diva’s of the garden and I could not be without them.   img_6808

I hate a jumbled mix of colours so I zone the garden to keep colours tonal.

I use the cutting garden or pots to trial bulbs – it’s very difficult to remove bulbs completely once they are in the garden among your perennials and shrubs if you don’t like them so always try them out first.

These trial areas helped me to discover ‘Hyacinth Gypsy Queen’. I would never have put ‘peach’ hyacinths in my garden! What a mistake that would have been. They are now one of my favourites and look amazing alongside Tulips La Belle Epoque and Recreado – these pots gave months of non-stop colour and scent.

Tulips can be quite short lived and therefore expensive. Here are some ways of cutting costs:

  • Keep to the same varieties – that way you can simply add a few fresh bulbs to top up the previous year’s display
  • Choose more perennial varieties
  • Mix with perennial planting or other spring bulbs

Perennial Varieties

Darwin Tulips such as the Impression and Apeldoorn ranges are very long lasting and have actually been quite difficult to remove where they are not wanted.

Sarah Raven ‘Gentle Giants’

I have also had long lasting success with the Fosteriana Tulips such as Purissima whose bulbs seem to be just as big and plump at the end of the season and have the added bonus of being one of the first tulips to emerge in the spring

Purissima, Exotic Emperor and Apricot beauty

Successional Planting

By combining different spring bulbs and flowering times you can create 4 months of colour with no more effort than a little deadheading and due to the demands on the compost a little watering and feeding if planted in pots.

We start with Hyacinth Pink Pearl in March which gives an early blast of colour and scent……….


By April the tight buds of Tulip Chato are pushing their way through.

This is a double early and it was the most admired Tulip at the Open Day with it’s peony like blooms which also die so beautifully which is often overlooked when planning pots.IMG_6479

By the beginning of May we deadhead Chato putting any last blooms in a vase by the bedside and make way for Sarah Raven’s ‘Absolutely Fabulous Tulip Collection’
This final display includes Tulips ‘Pretty Princess’, ‘Candy Cane’ and ‘Arjuna’.

Mixing bulbs and perennial plants

Polyanthus flower right through the winter and are blowing our minds well before any of even the earliest bulbs.

This trio of pots was my absolute favourite last yearIMG_6822
We kick off with Polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’, following early March with yellow crocus, then it’s the turn of Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’ to take the stage and then finally Tulip ‘Abu Hassan’ with is one of the few tulips to be blessed with scent.

6 months of interest and all of the plants and bulbs are ready to use again this year – the polyanthus at least doubling in size and divided to create more plants.


Daffodil / Narcissus Geranium, Thalia, Binkie. Tulip Purissima and Hyacinth City of Haarlem

Tulips make supreme cut flowers. Strip the bottom leaves, tie the stems in paper and soak for 8 hrs. This helps keep the stems straight.

Click for more information on caring for cut-flowers 

I have created a great many of these planting combinations, see more on the Swan Cottage Garden Facebook page 

Swan Cottage Bulb Trials

Leave the browning foliage on your tulips until every leaf has died right down – this allows the bulb to store more food for next year (don’t be tempted to tie them up – this interrupts the flow back to the bulb).

If you hate this untidiness then plant in pots and move somewhere out of view where the foliage can die down. Later move the pots undercover so the compost can dry right out making it much easier to rub the bulbs clean for storage. Bulbs left to sit in wet pots over the summer will suffer from rot and attack from slugs.

Slugs especially like expensive Hyacinths which otherwise do really well planted in fresh compost each year multiplying your stock. For this reason Hyacinths left in the garden are more hit and miss and need to be topped up to maintain a good display.

Hyacinth Deft Blue Daffodil / Narcissus February Gold and Tete A Tete








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