Pick a Plant – Tulips

The tulip is native to Persia and Turkey where the Lali, as the tulip is called in Turkish, grows naturally. In the 16th-century, Constantinople, the present Istanbul, was a centre of trade, traffic, culture and political intrigue and the amazing city gardens were held in great admiration. It is from these gardens that the tulip became known throughout the world.

The connection of Holland began with Clusius, a botanist at the University of Leiden who became besotted by these rare flowers and tried to sell them at such exorbitant prices that no one was willing to buy them. Instead, one dark night, some commercially spirited gentlemen crept into his garden and stole the bulbs. The legend is that these stolen bulbs formed the basis of all later tulip cultivation in Holland.

The first tulip is said to have arrived in Great Britain, from Vienna, in 1578. And 45 years later, John Parkinson, a well-known herbal author, listed over 150 varieties, sub-dividing them into 3 groups, early, mid-season and late; a classification which is still used today. Great Britain still plays an important role in cultivating and registering new varieties.

Tulips are available in a wealth of varieties covering many shapes, sizes and colours.

Single, early tulips have classic, goblet-shaped blooms, some with striped, flushed, or margined petals.  Early doubles have long-lasting open bowl-shaped flowers, often flecked or margined in toning colours.  Traditionally used for cutting, in formal bedding, or as border edgings, many can also be grown in pots indoors.

Mid-season tulips include Triumph tulips, with their simple, conical blooms, and the Darwin hybrids, with rich and intensely coloured flowers, often with a satiny, basal blotch and dark, velvety anthers.  Both types are sturdy, robust and noted for their weather resistance.

Some of the most vibrant colours and intricate forms are seen in late-flowering tulips.  They include the graceful lily-flowering types, vivid and extravagant Parrot tulips, green-tinged Viridifloras, and exuberantly striped and feathered Rembrandts.

Dwarf species and hybrids such as the compact Kaufmanniana hybrids produce their brightly coloured blooms very early in the spring while the slightly taller Fosteriana and Greigii Tulips usually flower a little later. Many have very attractively marked foliage.  The dwarf species are ideal for containers, raised beds, or rock gardens.

Most recent multi-flowered tulips include tulip ‘Candy Club’®, tulip ‘Sunshine Club’® and tulip ‘Night Club’®.

Tulips 'Candy Club'®‘Candy Club’® was obtained by crossing the tulips ‘Georgette’ and ‘Happy Family’, both of which are also multi-flowered. The result of this cross-fertilization, the ‘Candy Club’® was registered in 1993. The flowers have a distinctive candy colour scheme in white with pink flames.

Tulips 'Sunshine Club'®‘Sunshine Club’® was not created through cross-fertilization but is a spontaneous deviation from the tulip ‘Candy Club’®, a so called ‘rogue’ where a grower may produce a batch of yellow tulips and suddenly find a red tulip among all the yellow flowers, even though this rogue tulip retains all the other characteristics of the rest of the batch. This tulip can then be removed to create an entire batch, thus cultivating a new tulip variety. This is how the tulip ‘Sunshine Club’® came to be cultivated and has the same characteristics as ‘Candy Club’®. The tulip ‘Sunshine Club’® was registered in 2004 and is therefore a very recent variety.

Tulips 'Night Club'®Tulip ‘Night Club’® is another derivative of the tulip ‘Candy Club’®. The difference is that this tulip did not appear spontaneously but was created by cross-fertilization by taking pollen from the multi-flowered tulip ‘Wallflower’, which has purplish-brown flowers with a yellow base, and applying this to the pistil of ‘Candy Club’®. The tulip ‘Night Club’® is still so new that you will not yet find its name in the list of names published by the bulb growers’ association.

Most tulips thrive in fertile, well-drained, humus-rich soils, in sun and with shelter, and in ideal conditions some robust cultivars persist from year to year.  Many however are best regarded as annual bedding plants, being lifted after flowering, when the leaves have died back, and either discarded (if diseased) or replanted.  The bulbs seldom flower well in the second year but if replanted in autumn may reach flowering size again within two years.

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