Seasonally inspired things to Learn, Make and Do

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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 🤞🏻

Snapdragon social

The sun room table, an old enamel basin, hazel twigs and pure glamour from green tinged white trumpets.⁠⠀
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I looked up yesterday lunchtime and the garden was full of sunshine. ⁠⠀
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There are a few places in the (very messy) house where keeping a bit of negative space, clear surfaces, a sense of breathing out pays off.  This white table is one of them.⁠⠀
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I took this on Sunday, disappointingly it is currently cluttered up with things (a nest, two candles, a box of matches, some receipts) to take down to the Studio.
Over the past year I have become increasingly uncomfortable about how we talk about the seasons to the point that I feel I need to say something.⁠⠀
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I'm particularly uncomfortable about how we talk about using the seasons as a life guide.  I can understand why this has happened - it is great, easily understood marketing, it is a ready built structure, I'm sure it helps the people who are desperately in need of rules and timetables at the moment.⁠⠀
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But it is rooted in a very particular idea of what seasons look like - particularly the 4 defined seasons of the UK, Europe and North America;⁠⠀
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Which would be fine if people were talking about their local area, the view from their window.  But that doesn't seem to be the case - this seasonal structure is built up into a programme to follow, the language is very much that 'this is the correct way to think about life'.⁠⠀
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But, if you are saying that the dormant season is the time to rest and recuperate, what does that say about countries where the seasons don't look like that.  Is there to be no rest? Is everyone to adopt the seasons in the UK as the 'correct' version? ⁠⠀
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Language matters, because language is where our assumptions lie.⁠⠀
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⁠The photo is of a rose hip - rose hips are the only berries left in the hedges now.  I used to think that it was because they tasted spiky that the birds left them till there were no other options but recently I found that they have the least calories.  The ivy, rowan and hawthorns produce the Kendal mint cake of berries - perfect for seeing the birds through the cold - so get eaten first.⁠⠀
There is a lot of talk at the moment about what 'seasonal flowers' means - the wonderful @wolveslaneflowercompany have been addressing the issue and they have a great story thread exploring the issue saved in their highlights.⁠⠀
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It was a thing that used to bother me a lot when I grew flowers because I only ever sold flowers that grew here, that was the whole point of the business - and in Scotland seasons are very late. I spent a lot of time explaining to brides that not everything is available at every time of the year. ⁠⠀
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I didn't ever have cut flowers until April.  I missed both Valentines and Mother's Day. ⁠⠀
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This is what I have as flowers in my home through January and February - glamorous, long lasting, amaryllis bulbs are on every surface. ⁠⠀
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Elsewhere cut hazel twigs in jam jars are taking over the windowsills. next week I may add in some snowdrops.
Yesterday I sent out a newsletter about extractivism - about the human tendency to push and exploit and keep extracting until we end up with a husk.⁠⠀
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It was sparked by conversations I had after the Oxford Real Farming Conference and a realisation that there is a thread that ties colonialism, industrial farming, privatisation of services and the way we often treat ourselves.⁠⠀
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I've been having such interesting conversations with the people who replied.⁠⠀
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I resend my newsletters to new subscribers on Sundays so if you want to sign up you can click through my profile to the website front page.⁠⠀
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We have been frozen here for a while - the top inch of ground thawed yesterday, but under that was rock hard.  Most of the garden is a low flood of slush floating on ice.⁠⠀
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The hardy annual plants I sowed in late September and transplanted in October are currently under snow but looking pretty terminal.  The temperature in the polytunnel went down to -6 last week and the salad crops turned to mush.⁠⠀
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Were I remotely self sufficient it would be proving a hard winter.⁠⠀
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But I'm not, so I just add more plants to my sowing plan - sowing seeds is my favourite thing - and admire the beauty of the hoar frost, and feel happy that I have food in the store cupboard and logs in the woodpile and a big pile of books by me.
'See a pin and pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck'.⁠⠀
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I have been embroidering a tiny run of linen needle/pin cases to go into the shop tomorrow - and I have embroidered this rhyme inside them - a reminder of the time when pins were made by hand and were to be treasured and looked after. ⁠⠀
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It gives a new appreciation to the term 'pin money' too - the modern kinds of pins, shiny in their plastic box that have made us assume that the term meant a small amount, left over change for fripperies. ⁠⠀
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In reality it was used as an alternative name for a household allowance - the amount of which was often laid out in the marriage contract - and was the money that a woman had complete legal control over. If it was unpaid a woman could sue her husband or his estate for back pay.
Allium Chistophii are rolling around under the espalier apple trees in the vegetable patch. ⠀
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I always hope for a little light self seeding as they go. ⠀
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Now they are like glittery tumbleweeds in the frost. ⠀
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In truth we bought the airstream to avoid a divorce.⁠⠀
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We bought it on Ebay late at night after sharing a bottle of wine.⁠⠀
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At the time I was running a business from the house - from a house that was about half the size it is now, a jumble of tiny rooms, painted plywood floors, two small children and a high level of sticky chaos.⁠⠀
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I am not a tidy enough person to run a business in a home - even had it been a well run home with storage space - and those years were not remotely well run.  My invoices always had cereal stuck to them, my sewing machine was parked at the end of the dining table, 90% of my working time seemed to be spent looking for something that I was sure had been left 'just there'.⁠⠀
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So we looked for something that we could afford so I could move the business out of the house - we priced up a chalet style home office from B & Q - and then, on Ebay, we saw the airstream, badly damaged, vandalised, forlorn.  It came in cheaper than the shoffice . . . .⁠⠀
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For a few years - before I built the Studio - this was my workspace and since then it has become a storage area and been sadly neglected while I tried to save the money to repair the damaged back window and the sagging floor.⁠⠀
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This weekend we began clearing out all the fabric that was stored in it so that the renovation can begin.  I am very excited.
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About Snapdragon Life

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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