May is normally the peak flowering time for tulips, but with our mild winters and early spring, tulips have been in flower since March.
This year spring started very early, but then cooler winds from the north arrived and cooled things down for a few weeks.
Tulips last a lot longer in these conditions so our extended displays are a bonus, and by using a combination of early season, mid-season and late flowering varieties tulips can be flowering for a good couple of months or longer.
At this time of year it is a good idea to assess the impact of the flower display so that it can be enhanced for the following year by adding a few more tulips in the autumn.
Where ever I have drifts of tulips I check to see if they can be improved by adding a different colour such as a white, pink or orange amongst a drift of yellow and reds.
It is not hard to find areas in the garden that can be improved by adding tulips.
They are very versatile, flowering in spring, then after a couple of months they are ready to go dormant so they don’t interfere with the needs of other plants in the same area.
Companion planting can be a great success when the season is in your favour.
My first tulips to flower are the Kaufmanniana tulip Scarlet Baby planted alongside some lemon yellow saxifrage both flowering together in late March.
Sometimes the seasons are not in their favour and one flowers ahead of the other, but when they both come out together it makes a great display in early spring.
The next to flower early in the season in late March to early April is the Fosteriana variety Red Emperor, also known as Madame Lefeber.
This large flowering variety makes a great companion planted underneath the shrub Forsythia as they both flower together in early April.
I also like to combine them with another early flowering Fosteriana type Purissima.
A large white flower said to be scented. I must have planted a couple of hundred, but I fail to find any with a scent.
In fact looking over the bulb catalogues I was impressed by how many were scented, so I tried a scented variety trial.
Maybe as you get older your sense of smell diminishes, but I can’t say I was impressed as I failed to find any scent amongst them, but again maybe it depends on the weather. Orange Emperor is another cracker in the Fosteriana range.
Going back to companion planting I have a drift of Doronicum Little Leo flowering in early to mid April with a great show of golden daisy type flowers so I planted some dwarf double Showcase, a deep purple and some red Triumph tulip Isle de France amongst them for colour contrast.
I grow a range of disease resistant (mildew, black spot and rust) roses in a bed for colour in the summer, but like to make this bed attractive in spring so the roses have a mixed batch of dwarf double tulips planted amongst them.
The tulips light up the border in April and May then a couple of months later they have gone dormant, and the roses can take over the space unaware that they had competitors at their feet.
My favourites are Abba (red), Negrita (purple), Peach Blossom (pink), Showcase (purple), Sun Lover and Monsella (both with yellow with red markings) and Monte Orange (orange.)
Tulips planted in pots and tubs for a spring display together with pansies, wallflower, myosotis, and polyanthus can be planted back in the garden when they are finished as they will continue to flower for years to come.
Most tulips left alone for years will slowly multiply and give great value year after year, but give them a boost in spring with some fertiliser to keep them healthy.
City Road Allotment have realised the impact and value for the plot holders as well as the community around the site so we are now mass planting areas at the entrance with tulips, daffodils, snowdrops, aconites and other plants to improve the appearance of our site.
Jobs to do this week
Remove flowering shoots from rhubarb as they usually like a spring floral flurry, before settling down to producing healthy stems and leaves.
If allowed to flower they will put all their energy into seed production at the expense of growth.
As the season gets warmer keep them well watered and give a monthly feed to boost growth. Continue to pull sticks throughout the summer.