I have been meaning to join the ranks of bloggers rhapsodizing about tulips for several weeks, but somehow never quite manage to get around to it. Now that the first of them are starting to strew their petals around like confetti, it felt appropriate to celebrate the good – and shudder at the bad. I am well aware that the notion of a “bad” tulip is deeply subjective, we all have different feelings about frilly or not frilly, bright or subtle, single colour or mixed. But I am moderately confident that most will agree that some of the random combinations I seem to have been gifted with this year are not what one would call aesthetically pleasing! But let me start with the first, my small collection of species tulips, planted under the purple hazel in my back garden.

Photo of a tightly closed bud of Tulipa orphanidea Whittallii Group

Tulipa orphanidea Whittallii Group, beautiful in shades of orange.

Photo of open Tulipa orphanidea Whittallii Group

species tulip with hazel

So graceful, whether open or closed, and a lovely contrast to the purple hazel foliage that she appears at the same time as. She didn’t increase, so I wonder if she gets enough sun here, in a west facing border. I hope so.

In the front garden I planted a collection of tulips from Peter Nyssen, hoping that the colours would complement one another and the folaige of the nearby Hebe ‘Red Edge’. I chose ‘Attila’. ‘Combat’ and ‘Havran’, and apart from wishing I had planted them in three clumps rather than a slightly awkward looking two, I have been delighted with them.

Photo of the tulips from Peter Nyssen

The backdrop of forget-me-nots doesn’t hurt either, and I plan to add to these come Autumn.

I am less happy with some of the other tulips than have been popping up in random places all over the front garden. I spent quite some time last year digging out bright yellow and red tulips, forgetting that I would probably miss little bulbils that would develop into proper bulbs that would wreak revenge on me for the untimely death of their brothers and sisters. I don’t actually mind them per se, though I prefer the red ones alone, particularly when they have the good taste to pop up in the middle of the forget-me-nots. Some of the markings on the yellow ones are really rather beautiful.

yellow tulip

I don’t even mind the occasionaly pink, slightly frilly tulip popping up, at least in abstract. I got over my total aversion to all things pink in the garden years ago, even soft baby-doll pink. In its place.

pink tulip

pink and frilly tulip

I do mind the lone white and red tulip though, I can’t actually imagine circumstances in which I would be happy to see this in my garden.

gharish white and red tulip

Most of all though I wish they hadn’t all popped up together. In the middle of my front garden. Almost OK – yellow is a happy colour, after all – but only almost.

a random collection of brightly coloured tulips


In the back garden, apart from the species tulips around the hazel – and the accidental planting of some ‘Burgundy’ lily-flowered tulips in the back border in place of the daffodils I intended to put there – I have stuck to pots. I only have those because I bought some in a sale from Sarah Raven, and they didn’t get planted until mid January. One set of three pots has a mix of ‘Prinses Irene’, ‘Havran’ and ‘Coleur Cardinal’. This is the Venetian Tulip collection, and it works beautifully, not least because the gorgeous dark streaks on ‘Prinses Irene’ pick up the deep red of ‘Coleur Cardinal’.

tulip prinses irene

terracotta pots of mixed tulips

Pots of havran, prinses irene and coleur cardinal

I also planted a pair of pots with the ‘Bold and Beautiful’ tulip mix, again from Sarah Raven. A combination of the deep orange scented ‘Ballerina’ (my all-time favourite tulip) and the deep magenta pink of ‘Doll’s Minuet’, they were to stand either side of the entrance of the aluminium greenhouse. Then we had to move the greenhouse, and then the tulips came up.

no ballerina tulips

Clearly a bit of a labelling issue, as instead of the fragrant orange of ‘Ballerina’ I got more pale pink.

doll's minuet tulip

doll's minuet tulip fully open

Still, overall I am still declaring this a good year for tulips, even if I remain a tad unconvinced by ‘Doll’s Minuet’. Which is funny because it is a tulip I have coveted for years now. The ‘Bold and Brilliant’ tulips will be planted out in the park border this autumn, the hodge podge of tulips in the front garden will be dug up, dried off and offered to fil for his border, assuming I can bear to let them die down, and I will chalk the misbehaving pots down to experience. But I did manage to cut some of the pink ones and put them, together with the odd pale pink tulips from the front garden and the misplaced but beautiful ‘burgundy’ tulips in the back garden, in a vase. Because it’s Monday. And because I keep telling Cathy@Rambling in the Garden that I will join in with her challenge to pick flowers for a vase each week and never do.

tulips in a vase

Slightly lopsided, and just in a plain glass jug, with some Griselinia foliage for contrast.

monday vase of tulips

A little does of spring on my mantelpiece. Do pop over to Cathy’s blog and check out the other flower arrangements being celebrated and discussed there. And enjoy your tulips, if you have them. They are almost over now…

47 thoughts on “A mixed bag of tulips – and some in a vase…

  1. My absolute favourite is the trio of dark magentas – both colour and shape – and the charming vase arrangement you have there Janet. Tulips do tend to dot themselves around and pop up like ungainly lollipops either because the rest of the clump does not re-appear or they get dug up and dispersed. Keeping them in pots ensures they stay in one place!
    p.s. Was very taken with a front garden curved border planting of bright red tulips I saw recently – I liked them enough to stop and photograph though it felt like I was ‘casing the joint’

    1. I like the idea of your furtively photographing a garden! I think massed red tulips can look wonderful, I just don’t really want anything that bright in my own front patch. I can see I am going to have to do some ruthless digging up and re-planting to clear that central area. Glad you like the dark tulips, they have been making me grin like an idiot for weeks now, they seem to just go on and on, and they stay looking neat and graceful.

  2. Some very nice colours and combinations you have there, both potted ones and in vases (nice colour on your metro tiles too!). And clues as to what to go for!

    1. Thank you, I am both really pleased and really frustrated with the tulips this year. We’ve got cream metro tiles in our newly decorated bathroom too!

  3. See, that didn’t hurt, did it?! I enjoyed sharing the highs and less-highs of your varied tulip collection and your equally varied reasoning. I too have done some tulip-deliberating this year and need to reassess while I can still see what is flowering when. I love the colour and shape of that ‘Havran’ that you have used in your jug, and it goes perfectly with the pale pink ones which I guess you were more than happy to cut! Look forward to having you onboard another time!

    1. I have been looking forward to cutting those pink tulips for this Monday Cathy, I was worried they wouldn’t last! And no, no pain at all. I’d love it to become a habit, but I know how rubbish I am at routines so no promises ;-) ‘Havran’ is one of the most elegant tulips I think I have ever come across, I love it, and really need to move it somewhere it can be seen and admired more easily. Although at least with it being where it is I don’t feel bad about cutting some for the vase. There’s a lesson there…

  4. Glad you joined in this week with your tulips Janet. The foliage in the arrangement is a nice color to highlight the pink and burgundy. Lovely. Susie

    1. Thanks Susie, I really like the Griseliana foliage, I suspect it will get used again…

  5. I was ooohing and ahhing all the way through (seriously), because I gave up on Tulips years ago. I love them, but my rabbit overpopulation makes them nearly impossible to grow. I have to say, I’m enamored of the soft pink ones. And your arrangements … stunning.

    1. Oh dear, wretched rabbits, I’m fortunate, no rabbits here just cats so its nepeta I must do without. The pink tulips will be re-homed in the front garden, assuming I can tell the difference between them and the minuet bulbs.

  6. I’m afraid I can’t even conceive of a bad tulip – any tulip that could survive in my hot, dry climate would be welcome. That ‘Prinses Irene’ is utterly beautiful.

    1. They must seem precious and exotic! I am lucky here, they do really well in the free draining soil, it was a different story in my previous garden.

  7. Janet I wish yellow and red random tulips were a problem in my garden, not because I like them but because I can think of and have a lot worse unwanted plants in my garden, I dug up some queen of the night tulips last year as they were not doing well where they were and I am amazed at all the single tulip leaves that have come up, obviously lots of little ones were left,

    I love your patio pots not just for colour but I really like the different heights of the tulips, much nicer than all the same height, the purple foliage sets off the orange species tulip very nicely too, Frances

    1. They are a lot better than bindweed, couch grass, chickweed or dandelions Francis, I agree. It was just so funny to have believed I had got rid of them only to see so many appear this year! I really like Queen of the Night, hope you find a good place for her.

  8. I enjoyed looking at your tulips you seem to have the same problem as me odd tulips popping up that don’t seem to fit. A lot of my old yellow tulips have now come up red – how strange is that. I am not terribly keen on double tulips but love the ballerina shaped ones (I am sure they used to be called lily tulips at one time) – the Venetian collection is my favourite though – the combination of colours is stunning.

    1. Eek, I don’t like the idea of tulips changing colour! I prefer my tulips neat and refined rather than frilly, and definitely not striped. I agree about the Venetian collection, I love it, she does come up with wonderful combinations.

  9. Such an abundance of tulips lovely. I love those three pots with the three layers of height. Great idea. And your arrangement looks great too.

    1. Thanks Mel! Though I can’t take credit for the pots, that’s down to Sarah Raven.

  10. Lovely to see the Venetian collection in bloom. I had a bag of those, planted out late December into a raised bed because I couldn’t think where else to put them. (Will move to under trees later this year.) The leaves have been showing for about a week, still got the blooms to come – whereas the budget Tesco bag have been blooming now for over 6 weeks (pink have faded, now got reds/yellows). Absolutely love your vase of flowers, the griselinia really works well as a foil for the tulips.

    1. Oh, I hope your Venetian collection performs for you Caro, and they will look wonderful under your trees. I was delighted mine bloomed so well given that I didn’t plant them until mid January. I was chuffed with the vase, I think I will be using Griseliana foliage again.

  11. Those yellow and red tulips seem indestructible. We have some on the plot that were supposed to be a mixed pack. The white ones I planted in the garden are less hardy and many seem to have disappeared which is a pity as they were lovely last year!

    1. I think I have a major job on my hands, getting rid of the red and yellow tulips, I’ll have to dig everything out, tease apart the bulbs, and then replant. What a pain. Interesting that the white ones are less hardy, I know different types are more or less likely to come back when planted out in a border. Hope my lovely purple ones come back.

  12. There is no such thing as a “bad tulip” in my opinion:) I love them all! Although I do try to plant specific color combinations, things don’t always work out as planned. I have some of the clashing combos like you, and other times, the carefully thought out plantings of two or three complimentary bulbs don’t bloom at the same time. I love the pink frilly one–it looks like ‘Angelique,’ one of my all-time favorites. Planting tulips in pots doesn’t work as well here–yours are beautiful!

    1. Hi Rose, why don’t pots work for tulips for you? Shame. Thank you for naming the pink ones, I must mark them before they disappear so that I can save them. I have just the spot. I was relieved when my purple collection all flowered together, I usually plant single varieties, or nick somebody else’s collection.

  13. My container grown tulips came and went very quickly this year, I think perhaps they suffered from a lack of watering. I’m always in two minds about them, and of the many colours and varieties I really only like the traditional yellow and white ones and definitely not the bi-colours or frillies. xx

    1. Hi Flighty, tulips certainly divide opinion, I really don’t like the very frilly or striped kind, but I really like the subtle colour markings on Prinses Irene. I’ve been lucky with my pots, I never remember to water them, but we’ve had enough rain over night to keep them going.

  14. Certainly a lot more good than bad! It is disappointing when they colours aren’t those you ordered especially when paying extra for ‘Sara Raven’! The vase is lovely, most of mine in vases ended up being very short after the hail etc. and tulips are much better long. You did well to get your combinations flowering at once – it doesn’t always happen!

    1. Hi Christina, I think I will stick to Peter Nyssen from now on, I’ve had too many mislabelled bulbs and tubers from Sarah Raven, and a refund doesn’t fix the colour scheme! I was lucky that the mystery pink Tulips had quite long stems, though I had to cut the ‘burgundy’ tulips, they have really long stems. They are very beautiful, I must find something to plant with them to complement them.

  15. You have such a variety of tulips, and i think they are all lovely, even your red and white one. This is probably because I can’t grow them successfully in my soil and have to resort to pots. Even then the mice and squirrels find them, but I keep on trying.

    1. I knew somebody would like the red and white one, but somehow I didn’t expect it to be you Pauline! I could only grow them in pots in my last garden, so I am thrilled to have soil that means they come back, even if it means red and yellow.

  16. I agree with you about that lone red and white tulip–it’s funny how tulips will occasionally go off the reservation like that-:)) I have good success with parrot tulips in big pots on the patio (with pansies on top), but terrible luck with putting them in the garden. One year my dear husband prepared a special bed lined with chicken wire on the bottom and put in 100 (100!!!) tulips he ordered especially for me from Holland. All that labor and they lasted two years and then pooped out. What IS it with tulips??

    1. Hi Susan, “off the reservation” is the perfect expression. I still can’t quite believe that someone deliberately planted them with red and yellow ones… Or pink… Still, the variety of tastes in gardeners and gardens keeps it interesting! How terribly disappointing to lose your special tulips. It does seem that only a few kinds will reliably return year after year.

  17. Hi Janet,

    Wonderful Tulip show you have going on there!

    I attempted a ‘sophisticated’ planting of the deep purple/black and whites… Well that wasn’t much of a success, and I thought I had lost the ‘blacks’ last year with the late snow and then rain early this year, but no some have actually survived and come back. However the ones blooming are not near the whites which have survived (I originally planted them in clumps). So it’s one black here, a couple of white there and so on. Oh well.

    Now I mainly stick to the smaller types like Turkestanica as they have better staying power too, and don’t disappear after a couple of years.

    1. Hi Liz, I think tulips can be tremendously frustrating planted in the ground, sticking to the species types seems very wise,no certainly intend to get more myself, and wouldn’t have tried “normal” ones if I hadn’t seen the red and yellow ones appear. Pity I didn’t manage to get rid of them…

  18. Oh Sarah Raven’s website is a great source of inspiration and I just love those terracotta pots with the Venetian collection – the colours work so well together. Pity there was a mistake with the labels … I’d let them know and see if they can compensate you in some way as a good will gesture.

    Seriously don’t give up on getting Ballerina as they are good perennial tulips as long as they are planted very deep in the ground. I bought them 5/6 years ago and I was just admiring them today in the garden. Orange with a slight touch of cerise is gorgeous … I really need to get out and photograph them before they are over.

    1. Hi Rosie, I love the Sarah Raven catalogues, always so many good ideas, but so frustrating when you get sent the wrong thing. They refunded my money though, no problem, which helps. I agree about Ballerina, my favourite tulip, beautiful markings and scented too. Definitely on my autumn bulb order.

  19. I really do love that Venetian collection planted in pots – very elegant. The poor pink one among the orange and yellow looked lonely, so hope that was one that made it into the vase! I often order tulips or lilies simply because they look gorgeous in the catalogues, but when it comes to fitting them into my garden I do sometimes have a problem! Still, any colour is welcome in Spring. By the way, I love the red and white striped one and have something similar in my rockery… stands out like a sore thumb, but I love it! Glad you could join in this week. They look so pretty with that extra foliage – a good idea.

    1. Hi Cathy, I’m tempted to send you my striped tulip bulb!! I knew someone would love it. And yes, I rescued the lone pink one and added it to the vase, poor thing looked scared, surrounded like that. I think the problem with tulips in the borders is how to disguise the dying foliage. I fear portions of my front garden will be looking distinctly tatty soon.

  20. Ah, Janet, Not much to dislike here then. What about your white and red tulip, is it garish? and yet most of us love the old Rose, Rosa Mundi. Hope to be back to normal by next Spring and have loads of these beauties similar to which you show us today.

    1. Hi Alistair, yes, to me, definitely garish! But there again I am not a fan of Rosa mundi either ;-) Hope next spring is full of lots of wonderful tulips.

    1. Hi Donna, oh dear, so many people seem to have trouble with critters getting the bulbs they love most, tulips seem to be particularly vulnerable, I’m guessing that’s your voles again? Do they survive in pots, perhaps with wire mesh over until they start to grow away?

  21. I particularly love your purple combination, and those Venetian tulip pots. I must confess though, that my feelings towards the brash and vulgar have softened a little in recent years – after a few ‘not-the-colour-that-I-ordered’ mishaps myself left me with similarly odd combinations that I just couldn’t bring myself not to smile at nonetheless. Tulips just make me smile. At this time of year, their burst of any colour just seems a feast after the winter. Even your bright red and yellow ones. You could always pick them to display in separate colours perhaps, without feeling guilty about raiding the colours of the garden…

    1. Thank you Sara, I was delighted with how well the purple collection worked, I want to add more for next year. I do know what you mean about the brasher combinations, its just a long way from what I am after in that bed! I am going to have to lift everything and replant it I think. Still, I am having some interesting ideas about how to improve it. And enlarge it. If TNG is up for lifting yet more turf for me…

  22. I’ve been meaning to post about tulips but . . . well there are only so many hours in the day. In some ways being stuck indoors because of the rain is a blessing so I can catch up. I adore the combo of your species tulip and the purple hazel leaves. Stunning! Tulips have been a mixed bag for me this year. Next year I think I’ll do more in containers, a bit like Carol Klein and then move them around the garden when they’re flowering. Tulipa sylvestris is on my list of must -haves. I’ve heard it isn’t as fussy as the highly bred tulips. Sounds good to me. :)

    1. Well if you will commit to another book ;-) I think tulips work brilliantly in pots, I am still trying to get to grips with how to make them work in the border. I really liked the sprinkling through the border they do at Gravetye, from Dave’s post. Tulipa sylvestris is enchanting, it may get added around the feet of the acer once it has been moved, how about that for clashing brightness! The species tulips also have much more manageable leaves when they begin dying down, not a phase I am looking forward to in my front garden.

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