I love tulips with the same passion I reserve for pumpkins. Both come in infinite variations. Both signal seasonal change. And both share some part of their jolly orb shape. Tulips provide the added, almost erotic, pleasure of allowing you to pour over a catalog of perfect color photos, to obsess about the difference between, say, the Golden Parade and the Jewel of Spring, to revel in the names that veer between the highly romantic and the very Dutch, and to plan the season’s planting accordingly.
Where I live, you pretty much have to plant fresh each year. Winters are not cold enough to leave the bulbs in the ground. (One year, I attempted to dry the bulbs with a root solution for safekeeping over the summer and fall, and the resulting flowers were puny and wilted.) Perhaps this is for the best. Each year brings new plans for stunning tulips. The homely bulbs go in the fridge in mid-October for their six-week hibernation. If I’ve gotten them in the ground by Frank Sinatra’s birthday (December 12), or even better, by Thanksgiving, I’m almost guaranteed a nice spring show.
This year’s crop came up fairly uniformly – a minor miracle – and seem to be at their peak right now, in mid-march. I photographed them during a break between rainstorms.
I am always on the lookout for classically shaped tulips in a soft apricot color, with maybe a little color variation for interest. The Daydream, a Darwin Hybrid, has delivered all that. The flower height ranges from 20”-24”. The stem is nice and sturdy, and the bulb is a pleasing size. Some of the flowers tend toward a pale yellow color. Daydreams open in the sun to reveal a black center.
This is another Darwin Hybrid, with more extreme coloring than the Daydream. In fact, I was a little afraid it might be too garish. But it is a lovely flower, with just enough dramatic flair in its flame-edged petals. There’s even a hint of green climbing up into the yellow flower, making the American Dream wonderfully complex and artistic. Stems are sturdy here, bulbs are a nice size. Height ranges from 18”-22”.
The New Design is another tulip that looked a little bright in the catalog, but is a very pretty pale pink, with darker pink around the petal edges and some variegated coloring (including a little yellow and green) sneaking up the petals’ centers. It’s a Triumph tulip, which, like the Darwin Hybrid type, is a classically shaped tulip that is the happy result of years of patient breeding. These flowers are 20”-24” high and have fun, light green floppy leaves on sturdy stems.
The dramatic Negrita is always one of the first tulip bulbs to sell out at my local nursery. It’s easy to see why. This classically shaped magenta flower – not as deep purple as some of the catalogues suggest –provides a sophisticated contrast to the other tulips of spring. The flower, also a Triumph, is big and slightly elongated. Flowers sit on thick stems, 18”-22” high.
With more than 2,000 named tulips, and more being developed all the time, there’s no telling which will catch my eye for next year. While I would keep any of this year’s flowers in my stable, I’m also attracted to the exotic fringe-petaled Parrot tulips in strong colors, and the group of tulips called Rembrandt, with their painterly blood-red flames that streak up each yellow or cream-colored petal.
Individual Tulip Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman