Tulips are members of the Lily (Liliaceae) family. They have a very diverse range of colours, sizes shapes and forms. Tulips have an incredible impact when they are grown in mass plantings in a garden bed but are also great in pots, as companion plants, or mixed in different colours or flowers in a grassy meadow.
Tulips have at least 75 different species divided into 15 different groups. These vary in flower size, structure, form and habit. In all there are over 6000 cultivars. The original wild varieties of tulip, come from the Altai mountain range where China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet. Wild tulips can be found in a band stretching in a band from Altai to southern Europe through Turkey. The climate in these mountains consist of freezing Cold winters and hot dry summers. These are also the conditions that most modern tulips thrive under. As a period of cold temperatures is required for flowering, in some parts of Australia you will need to cool the bulbs in your fridge crisper for a few weeks.
Tulip history and Tulip mania.
The name tulip comes from the Turkish word tülbent meaning turban. This is probably due to the shape of the flowers resembling a turban. These days, tulips are closely associated with the Netherlands due to a historical co-incidence. The ambassador of the 16th century Habsburg monarchy was given some tulip bulbs to take take to Vienna by the Turkish Sultan. The ambassador then passed some bulbs on to his friend, Flemish botanist Charles de l’Ecluse who was caring for the emperor’s garden in Vienna. Later de l’Ecluse was given a teaching appointment in Leiden in Holland. As the director of the local botanical gardens, his experiments with tulip bulbs soon caught the attention of the wealthy residents of Leiden. Tulips soon became a much sought-after import to the Netherlands. The tulip mania that followed led to tulip bulbs reaching the same price as an Amsterdam canal house. Today’s tulip mania takes a much different form. It consists of people make long pilgrimages to places like Keukenhof in the Netherlands, or Tessalaar’s in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne to take thousands of selfies and photos of the spectacular seas of colour of the tulips. More recently, some interesting hybrid varieties have been created using some of the original wild varieties from southern Asia.
Garden Landscaping Ideas with Tulips
Tulips can be planted in mass plantings in a garden bed with each colour in its own row or graded in a continual blend from pale yellow, brilliant yellow to orange to red.
On top tip for growing tulips in large beds like this is to leave gaps between the bulbs so that extra bulbs can be added a few weeks later. This will give your garden a longer period in bloom.
Tulips are brilliant to mix with other plants which flower around the same time. Try planting them with daffodils or plant them with blue plants like Blue Mascari, or combine with other emerging annuals. The results will be spectacular.
Meadow planting with tulips and daffodils.
Plant in the grass under trees in a meadow with a variety of colours and flower forms. This will attract pollenating insects like bees and butterflies to your garden. This will in turn attract bird life. Plant you meadow with a variety of bulbs like daffodils, to lengthen the time in flower and feed the bees for a longer period of time.
Garden Maintenance. Planting and Care of your Tulip Bulbs.
Growing tulips in Australia
Plant in late Autumn or late April to Early May. In warmer parts of Australia they may need to be in the fridge crisper for a few weeks prior to planting. An old egg carton is ideal for this. If the ground is still heating up from the sunlight, plant your bulbs a little deeper in the soil to protect them from the heat. Bulbs can be ordered from Tesselaar’s that are pre chilled ready to plant.
Heavy clay soils, dig in some organic matter with vermiculite, perlite or even some potting mix. Plant around 20mm deep in pots, or around 80mm – 150mm deep in the garden. Alway check the planting depth with your supplier. The rule of thumb is the planting depth should be around 2.5 times the bulb width. Tesselaars recommend planting the bulbs 3 times the bulb height in Australia. Plant in full sun. Lightly fertilize the plants just as the flowers are starting to emerge. Tulips are reasonably low maintenance if you by healthy bulbs from a reputable supplier and plant in well drained soil. If you plant the bulbs deeply enough it is easy to cultivate around the plants with a Dutch hoe until they get fully established.
Good drainage and a period of cold weather is essential for your tulips. Don’t let them go to seed unless you are planning on a wild meadow. Remove the flowers, but make sure you keep the leaves, so that all of the goodness can be taken back into the bulb for next year. For best results, remove the bulbs from the soil and store them in a cool dry place. Use a hessian bag for storage rather than a plastic bag.
Tulip varieties and cultivars
The varieties available and the best performing varieties, will depend on where you are planting your tulips. Always check with your local plant supplier. The flowers listed below we give you some idea of the various flower shapes, but these varieties will not necessarily be available in all areas.
Where can you see tulips?
Many towns and cities have annual tulips festivals in the spring. Every year in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne the Tesselaar Tulip Festival takes place from mid September to mid October.
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