Seasonally inspired things to Learn, Make and Do

Journal

Planting tulips

planting tulips in heavy soil

Bulb catalogues are my downfall. The descriptions, the photographs, the way that they set my mind off on Spring at a time when it is beginning to become more monochrome outside.

There was a time when what is now the orchard was simply rows of tulips to sell at farmers markets. One year deer, hungry in the cold, came up from the woods in the valley and ate 4000 bulbs in a single night. I cried.

For the past couple of years I have been very restrained in my tulip purchases - a few rows for the house, a couple of dozen to brighten up the borders - and concentrated instead on planting narcissi and crocus under the plum trees in the orchard.

This year however we are back to having a proper cutting garden, in an area that hasn't grown tulips before, so I went on a little bit of a splurge.

I garden on pretty heavy soil and the weather in the west of Scotland is very wet in the winter so we are not the ideal climate for tulips - 15 years of growing tulips has however shown which varieties come back year after year and which are single year show stoppers.

I have two areas I am going to plant up this year.

The first is down the side of the central path between the existing and the new productive gardens. It is long and narrow bed under a row of espalier apple trees (currently looking more like twigs if I am honest). I do not want to have to completely replant this every year - I need there to be a good existing framework of reliable tulips which I can simply top up.

This is where the most perennial tulip varieties are going.

White Emperor (purissima). As the name suggests this is a big, pure creamy white tulip, buttery yellow at the base. It flowers early, it doesn't spoil in the weather (unlike some white tulips) and I have had a clump growing here for 10 years.

planting tulips in heavy soil

Spring Green. I think that this must be the most reliable tulip I grow - it even comes back in some large pots, year after year. The base is a yellowy white with broad green stripes up the petals. This is also the tulip which had a stem so sturdy that it withstood a spaniel puppy careering through the flower beds.

planting tulips in heavy soil

Tulip sylvestris. I have never grown this before - but saw it growing in the grass down at Perch Hill in the Spring. I originally ordered the bulbs for the orchard but then thought that they might attract the deer and changed my mind. So it will be adding a spark of yellow to the border instead. It is a wild tulip and scented - Sarah Raven says that it is perennial with her so I am giving it a try. I shall let you know.

planting tulips in heavy soil

Other tulips I find pretty perennial here are the clear orange Ballerina (which smells of freesias so I forgive its weak stems), the raspberry ripple Marilyn and apricot Menton which has amazing staying power as a flower - 3 weeks in bloom. I also found that the glorious Orange Favourite was perennial for about 5 years, but this has now been discontinued by most sellers due to virus build up so I am not replenishing my stock.

I am going to add in some extras to this border to build on the theme of green and cream and have chosen Evergreen, Green star and Green Spirit - none of which I have ever grown before.

There is also going to be some narcissi Bellsong and the white allium multibulbosum nigrum along with lush cream and apricot wallflowers. I may sneak in some white flowered sweet rocket too.

The other places I am going to grow tulips are in rows in the cutting patch and in pots - with both I am treating the tulips as annuals and just thinking of the expense as a gift to myself.

I shall replant the bulbs in the perennial meadow and see what happens . . .

I have chosen a colour palette of copper and corals with the expensive but sumptuous La Belle Epoque, Menton, big and blowsy Copper Image, and, as a bit of a contrast, Black Parrot.

I buy my bulbs from Peter Nyssen and Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden - depending on the numbers I need and the variety.

Planting tulip bulbs so they have the best chance to be perennial.

Tulip bulbs don't actually want to be perennial. Being perennial does not increase their gene pool. They want to divide into little bulbils which will eventually make new bulbs. The bulb fields in Holland encourage this tendency by planting the bulbs very shallowly and closely so that the bulbs heat up and divide fast. To slow the process down therefore you need to keep the bulbs as cool as possible and plant deeply.

This is how I plant tulips in the ground.

  • I wait until the weather is properly cold - at least mid October, sometimes November - this means that diseases and fungus in the soil are frosted and you are less likely to have problems with rot or tulip fire.
  • I dig a trench or wide hole about 20 cm deep and put a good 5 cm horticultural grit in the bottom - this keeps the bulbs well drained in our heavy soil and shouldn't be necessary if you garden on really light soil.
  • I then space the bulbs out with 5-10 cm between them - I used to really cram bulbs in - which looked amazing when they all bloomed together - but I soon had problems with the fungal disease tulip fire which disfigures the flowers, so now I prefer to plant other things with the tulips to give the showy effect. Wallflowers and forget-me-nots are perfect. I plant maybe 7 - 10 bulbs per square foot.
  • I scatter more grit on top of the bulbs to keep them in place and then cover up with soil.
  • Sometimes I plant early flowering bulbs like iris and crocus on top of the tulips but this year I am leaving space for wall flowers. Tulips will happily grow round other plants to reach the surface.
  • Once the tulips have flowered, dead head them so they don't try to produce seeds, but leave the leaves until they have withered and turned brown. All the goodness in those leaves is going back into the bulb to nourish it so there is enough energy to flower next year.
  • If you cut any flowers for the house try and leave some leaves on the part of the stem that remains in the garden.

Commercial cut flower growers treat all tulips as annuals - cramming them in so they touch and then pulling the bulb out of the ground along with the stem and flower when harvesting. There is a mini course on how to do this on the Floret Flower website.

With my cutting rows I do similarly - but as I am cutting for myself rather than for market, I do not pull the bulbs but cut the stems so there are some leaves left to nourish the bulb. I do then replant the bulbs in the perennial meadow and some re-bloom the following year.

I will write another post about planting in grass and pots.

Pests - There are lots of things love the taste of tulips - deer were my nemesis but rabbits, badgers and squirrels can also be a problem. Really there is very little you can do except for creating physical boundaries. I find that, by the time the tulips are actually above ground, the deer here have other things to eat and don't come in the garden so - in areas nearest to the woods - I tack horticultural fleece temporarily over the area I've planted. But obviously this isn't going to work if you have munching animals about all year. . . If anyone had a solution I would love to hear it.

If you enjoyed reading this post you might like to read about the creation of our cutting patch earlier this year.

 

tulip border Snapdragon Studio Garden

Comments: 1 (Add)

Carol Wilkie on November 9 2018 at 07:29

Loved all the information on tulips. I usually just plant in tubs. One year the squirrels at all 50 in the back garden. I have since planted with a layer of daffodils on top. That’s worked fir me so far 🤞🏻

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Small runs.⁠⠀
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The single thing that has made the most difference in Snapdragon Life's eco-footprint over the past 9 months has been choosing only to make small runs of products.⁠⠀
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I know that can be frustrating sometimes - people get upset when something sells out.  @amandabanhamceramics wrote about this recently - how she received frustrated, sometimes even nasty, emails after every online sale of her houses.⁠⠀
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Once upon a time I would make 100s, sometimes even 1000s, of a single design. ⁠Now I make 10 or 20 or 30 of something. ⁠⠀
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And that is it. ⁠Once they are gone they are gone.⁠⠀
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⁠The photo is of some allium embroidered lavender cushions, embroidered onto C19th handwoven linen - part of the Just Breathe gift set - a limited edition of 20. ⁠⠀
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Half have sold.⁠⠀
A big sky and a bright pond for the end of the working week.⁠⠀
#lochlomond
This week I've been setting aside time to make things.⁠ It has felt grounding in the way that gardening is when we aren’t ankle deep in mud. Carefully chosen materials, working with my hands, concentrating. ⠀
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These patches of antique linen, embroidered with the dark lines of allium seed heads, are for a new batch of the 'Just Breathe' gift sets which should be up on the website tomorrow.⁠⠀
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I taught myself to draw with a sewing machine⁠⠀
years before I learned to draw with a pen. ⁠⠀
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In many ways I still find it easier - as though there were something backwards in my head that is happier thinking in reverse.⁠⠀
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At the weekend I read Anne Lamott's 'Almost Everything: Notes on Hope' - a book written in 2018, ⁠⠀
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I copied out this quote ⁠⠀
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Oh this linen from @scottishlinen is wonderful to embroider on.  It has inspired me to try something I have been meaning to do for ages.⁠⠀
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All Summer I have been decorating order boxes with mugs and flowers.  I must have done a few hundred by now, the initial of the customer on the mug, fine liner on card.⁠⠀
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It is a design device I love - the wonderful works of @debbiegeorgeartist and @angielewin are my inspiration - and I wanted to see if I could get fluid enough to have it work as a freehand machine embroidery.⁠⠀
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I don't work from a sketch, there are no lines on the fabric, I just put my sewing machine pedal down and go.  It helps a lot if there is some level of muscle memory.⁠⠀
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This large lavender cushion is the result - this particular one is going as a gift to a Club Member who has agreed to write for my January edition of Some Seasonal Notes. ⁠⠀
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The link to have me make one is going first to Studio Club Members their e-mail this morning, but then will go up on the website later today. The last order date will be 30th November as I can't stockpile them and will need time to make them.⁠⠀
My Dad would hate this photo.⁠⠀
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Growing up candles were banned from the house except from on Christmas Day - and even then he spent his time blowing them out as he passed.⁠⠀
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This is a rosemary covered jam-jar.  I first saw these in 1990s when they were a speciality of the florist Paula Pryke and the tie was a silk taffeta bow.⁠⠀
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This rustic version - with a tie make from linen offcuts - is the 15 minute activity going out in tomorrow's Studio Club email.
Dixie is slowly getting used to being a Studio dog.  All last year - as  I changed the way Snapdragon Life worked - she spent her time with me working at the kitchen table, bossing the cats around, barking at the postman.⁠⠀
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Earlier this year, I moved back into the Studio full time and she came with me. To begin with it was fine, she was mainly outside and the doors were open.  She spent her days lying across the Studio threshold and watching out for trespassing pheasants.⁠⠀
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But now it is too cold to have open doors and I can't be bothered with constantly letting her in and out, so she is a full time studio dog, curled up on the chair by the stove.⁠⠀
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She very clearly finds it “boring, boring, boring” and thoroughly disapproves of both my music and the lack of biscuits. ⁠⠀
Now that we are in the season of mud I am spending most of my time looking up.⁠⠀
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Birds stripped the orange rowan berries within a couple of days, but these yellow ones were still hanging bright against the grey.
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At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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