Behind the Private Gates, In the Garden


Tulipmania: The Good Dirt on Tulips

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Who doesn’t love tulips? And who cannot be intrigued with these exquisite flowers that originated in Turkey and made their way to the Netherlands in the 1600s, prompting a trading frenzy — and causimg a speculative economic bubble characterized as”Tulipmania.”

Next to peonies, these tall elegant ladies would have to be my favorites. But it takes a strong constitution, both on my part and theirs, to withstand the challenges of the cold, rainy conditions that seem to be typical of “spring,” March and April, in New England (which I’ve come to realize is an oxymoron). However, I enthusiastically marshaled on prepping, planting, anticipating and party planning, but I was rained out more times than not (the image with the Orangerie, below, was taken under just such conditions).

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I “live and learned.” Our satisfying solution for tulips in the spring? Planting bulbs in large plastic pots which give us the flexibility of putting them out when weather permits (a bit of a challenge since we don’t have a greenhouse, but being able to enjoy tulips at this time of the year is worth being creative!). They are then placed into garden containers positioned strategically to be viewed from the house.

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The silver lining in this exercise is that we plant additional pots to serve us well inside also, moving them around the house as the mood strikes (this is made easier by the “plant trolleys” created from the original bases of the columns to our pergola).

Then in mid-May, the hardiest of tulips that were planted in the garden rear their heads and bring their charm to specific garden plantings. The most satisfying to me, because it is an opportunity for a pairing one doesn’t often see, is in the “black and white” garden.  ‘Black Night’ parrot tulips and crystalline white parrots serve as a foil to each other in a dramatic combination.

Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

TIP: For the best show, dig your tulips after they bloom (pull out the entire stem with bulb) and plant new bulbs each year.

The color combinations possible with tulips are endless, and one gardener’s pleasure for me is creating my own collection. With a focus on apricot, peach, russet and soft rose, these four tulips are a long-awaited mid-May treat.

Or, you may purchase the “Triumph Brilliant Mix” which well illustrates what I noted above. This mix successfully provides a welcome  movement and depth created by the juxtaposition of colors.

Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

There are subtle opportunities when pairing plant material and tulips that can be easily overlooked. Rusty red berberis and just the right shade of orchid purple illustrate this point well; a thorny berberis and a swanlike tulip. Opposites attract!

Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

Still others take advantage of low growing spring perennials whose color are a perfect contrast to the delicious shades of tulips.

Pastel Colored tulips
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

It is also informative to see the varying sites that others have chosen for decorating with tulips…from an informal meadow-like setting…

Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

…to a city sidewalk garden bed.

One breed of tulip, parrot, is to me just down right sexy! It would seem I’m not alone in this sentiment; they were the stars of that “tulipmania” I mentioned earlier, to be found in Flemish paintings and even inspiring a container — known as a tulipiere — for showing off each individual stem.

Many of these “Broken” breeds are the result of a virus, but breeders now can achieve similar color breaks genetically. Those 17th century “flamed and feathered” tulips shown in the above tulipieres have their counterparts in general circulation today, like the “Rembrandt Mix.”

Rembrandt Mix
Photo Credit: Longfield Gardens

TIP: The petals of many parrot tulips tend to flay open and not maintain their upright stature that shows them off at their best; this can usually be avoided in these four parrot tulips that I recommend… ‘Texas Flame,’ ‘Black Parrot,’ ‘White Parrot’ and ‘Silver Parrot.’

From the garden…to a wedding bouquet…tulips fascinate and inspire.

Happy gardening…and then some.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

4 thoughts on “Tulipmania: The Good Dirt on Tulips

  1. Hi Bettie
    Love reading your beautiful blogs . Wish we could be there for your tulip cocktail viewing ……. with you in spirit . Happy late anniversary
    Love F L Teresa

    1. You’re the BEST! ayes, I wish you could be here,too, for the tulip party, though it’s pretty chilly. Hugs back, xxo

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