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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 🤞🏻

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Yesterday marked 32 years since Euan and my first date. I spent time looking through photo albums for a record of that time. There weren’t any photos - I don’t think I had a camera or the cash needed to develop photos back then - but there were a few pressed flowers. ⠀
I don’t know what they were from, I should have labelled them, but they obviously meant enough to keep. ⠀
This photo is of the little brass frame from our Flower Press kit that was the most recent Studio Box. We have a few left packed up and after that it will be repackaged as a more expensive gift version. ⠀
If you were thinking of buying one, either as a one off or as the start of a quarterly subscription you can find out more by clicking the link in my profile.
Poppies are really the best cut flowers. Especially if you are stuck inside and can watch them gradually open. All varieties work - from wild corn poppies to the flamboyant oriental poppies. ⠀
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Cut them in full bud, if you can see the petals just about to burst through that’s perfect. ⠀
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Sear the bottom inch of stem in boiling water for 5 seconds and then arrange. The lower stem will go black so best in an opaque vase. ⠀
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If you recut above the black line you need to re-sear. ⠀
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They should last 5 days. 5 days of wonder.
Yesterday was the first hot day, the first day in the garden when I didn’t feel that all my poor plants are shivering and shrinking. ⠀
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It was also the first day for weeks that I had completely clear, no plans, no work, nothing but time to potter and plant. Glorious. ⠀
What is your weekend like? ⠀
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(Today it is back to being windy but I don’t care as I’m also back at work, prepping everything so that we are ready to send out the magazine part of A Seasonal Way next week)
How do you manage different layers of privacy, vulnerability and messy beginnings online?  I was musing about this yesterday, all the different things I put out into the world - and how I choose where to post them. ⠀
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How I choose what to post here, what goes out in my general newsletter, what goes into my Studio Members Newsletter and what gets posted into my (free) closed Facebook Group Snapdragon Studio Bee. ⠀
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It’s all subtle stuff, the difference I suppose in what you would talk about in a live interview and what you would chat to the interviewer about later, off the record, over coffee. Both conversations are likely honest and true, but one might still be evolving and feel too unformed, too fragile for public consumption.⠀
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I’ve decided to document my beginnings with screen printing in the Snapdragon Studio Bee Facebook Group - it’s a really supportive group and I’ve no fear of judgment in there - if you want to join you would be really welcome. It’s thankfully not a competitive, ego driven group so I think I will feel very comfortable sharing the things that don’t work as well as those that do.
Yesterday was a stressful day.  Our big printer, which does all the textile things, keeled over with a fatal error.⠀
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Repair is seemingly not possible, replacement too expensive.  We had to take about 40% of the things we sell off various websites.  It's not ideal.⠀
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But after I'd got over the frustration of number crunching and having to cancel orders, it seemed like an opportunity really.⠀
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Val and I have been talking about screen printing since the beginning of the year - it is one of the reasons we cleared the workshop so that there is a long central working space.⠀
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I want to be able to draw directly on the screens - and play about with the technique a bit, make the results really immediate, sketched, mine.⠀
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I've ordered supplies and will be working away playing with the technique over the next week or so.⠀
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Sometimes it seems that when I don't move fast enough towards something, fate just seems to create mayhem until there are no other options left but to just ‘do it’. ⠀
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Does anyone else find that?
What is your favourite way to make a house a home? 
I'm not a tidy person - my natural persona is more like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the Cat in the Hat, everywhere I have been, there is a trail of mess left behind. ⠀
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When I wanted to leave my job as a museum curator Euan said I could do anything I wanted to, he would always support my decision, as long as I didn't attempt to become a housewife because I would be truly terrible at it.⠀
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On Tuesdays though Izabella comes and cleans the house for us (this is why my embroidery morning is a Tuesday, so I can keep out of the way)⠀
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Walking back into the house on a Tuesday lunchtime is always such a lovely feeling - the kitchen is tidy, the floors mopped, order is restored.⠀
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I try to take advantage of the sense of homeliness by doing some of the things I am good at - arranging flowers, cooking.  Often I do so much of these faffing about domestic things that I have managed to make the kitchen a mess by the time anyone else gets home.⠀
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The plum poppies are blooming.  A week late, but here to say happy anniversary Jenny and Jeremy. #ayearinflowers #week24
How tidy are you? Do you like everything out and to hand or do you prefer clear surfaces and blank space?

It’s Tuesday today so that means my embroidery day as I build up a little collection of limited edition works which then go up into the webshop on the last Friday of each month. (Studio members get first dibs and then the link goes into my newsletter later in the day)

I took this photo yesterday afternoon of the bench that is next to my sewing machine. Untidied, un-arranged, but with rather nice light coming in the window. 
There is a half made doorstop, some piles of cut wool to be embroidered and the threads I like to have near at hand. You can see that the wall where I work used to have tiles on it, you can see that I’m neither neat nor organised. 
Showing my day - a 10 second photo, full of reality, potential, and life is what I meant when I talked about doing and Social media last week. 
#doingnotseeming
I welcomed the rain yesterday - it didn't seem so bad to be indoors proofing the final version of the A Seasonal Way magazine.⠀This goes alongside the e-course and community and is at the heart of the whole thing 🌱
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It goes to print tomorrow so I need to decide the final numbers today.  I'm not going to be able to print another run, but equally I don't want to be left with lots of copies.⠀
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So today is the last day to order to guarantee that your A Seasonal Way has a hard copy rather than a digital copy of the magazine part.⠀
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This article is about off grid holidays, why they appeal and what we get from them.  The mug in the background with coffee is by @amandabanhamceramics.⠀
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You can find out more about the A Seasonal Way course by clicking through my profile, or in the A Seasonal Way story highlight.  I would love it if you felt you could share about what I'm doing here!  The more people join in, the better the community will be.
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At Snapdragon we 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.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

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