Those that know me realise that I’m a tulip addict. We all have our guilty pleasures, and one of mine is the tulip. I had decided to resist blogging about buying tulips until later in the season – but the sight of those shining mahogany bulbs arriving in the garden centres was too much. Why wait to tell you about them? The first thing I should say is that it is too early to plant tulips. Please wait until late October or November to get them into the ground or into pots. Plant too early and you risk frost damage and the disease tulip fire.
However it is not too early for buying tulips – They are available now and you know what they say: “the early birds get the best bulbs”, or something like that. I always go for the largest bulbs I can buy and those are the ones that Hillier sells loose. Graded as 14+ or 14up, these are firm, plump and packed with flower power.
Tulips bloomed in Europe for the first time in the spring of 1594. The bulbs came from Turkey where some grow wild; selections have been made and cultivated in Turkish gardens since earliest times. ‘Tulipomania’ swept through
Holland in the early 1600s and spread to Germany, France and Flanders. Astronomical prices were paid for single bulbs as collectors sought to acquire rare and showy forms. It took the intervention of the Dutch government to halt this speculation in tulip bulbs, but not before fortunes and livelihoods were lost in the process. Stories abound of Dutch merchants willing to exchange their canal – side house in Amsterdam for a single bulb. Even as late as 1850 the bulb of a well- broken tulip (one with flamed or feathered flowers) would fetch as much as £150.
Fascinating stories: fortunately today tulips are considerably cheaper, and the risk of getting hooked on these fabulous flowers is considerably less. Ten fabulous tulip bulbs cost less than a bunch of flowers and last considerably longer.
So when buying tulips what do I choose? I want a long lasting tulip that performs regardless of the weather. I like simple single tulips in soft or dark colours. I love silky, sensual, elegant blooms. Tulip ‘Menton’ delivers all of these qualities and those that have grown it always come back the following year. The blooms are soft salmon, becoming more intense as they mature. In some lights they have a hit of gold in the petals. They open late in the season on long, stout stems and are remarkably large, but beautifully formed. This is a great variety for beds and borders. On well drained soil ‘Menton’ will reappear year after year. It is also superb in pots and as a cut flower.
Tulip ‘Menton’ is always a show stealer at Chelsea Flower Show. Last year’s show saw a week of hot weather and ‘Menton’ was the only variety on Bloms’ exhibit that lasted the whole week.
Buying tulips now? Buy ‘Menton’, 14+ bulbs while they are still available. Visit www.hillier.co.uk now. What about my other guilty pleasures...................maybe next time.