It has been the longest growing season in living memory. My diary records a ‘spring walk’ on January 25th, and practically no overcoat weather since. The gardening press is full of advice about wrapping tender plants for the winter, even pruning clematis, when everything is still in full cry. What advice should it give for balmy days in November?
Fergus Garnett in The Garden enumerates the tulips that, he says, live to flower another year. Tulip blight apart, I have found that many do, if not with the vigour of their first go round. My favourite ‘White Triumphator’ has played its part as a ghostly fringe for maybe ten years, thinning a bit but still striking. It was more challenged by bluebells in a mixed planting around the lovely golden Acer shirasawanum, dwindling by degrees as the bluebells thickened. But it was still flowering five years after planting. Perhaps lily-flowered tulips are good repeaters: Fergus praises the slim orange ‘Ballerina’; yellow ‘West Point’ has also gone on here for years and years. And the pale pink (with yellow inside) stoloniferous Tulipa saxatilis that my college dean, John Raven, collected in Crete forty years ago, comes up every April in a gradually-widening patch. His daughter Sarah must have caught the bug from her father.
The problem Fergus doesn’t mention is that bulbs in borders end up speared on your fork. He advises replenishing scatters or clumps with fresh bulbs; but how do you find the present incumbents? I remember that the ‘China Pink’ is among the euphorbias that make one of spring’s freshest exclamations. Then each exploratory prod with the fork provokes a squeal from another skewered tulip. ‘Tis a puzzlement.