New plants

Tulips – five new varieties

Once upon a time tulips used to be simple, though that time was long ago. You can still get simple tulips (I’m glad to say), but their popularity over several centuries has led to the breeding of endless variations. Flowers now come in a range of shapes that are categorised into 15 different groups. Unless you’re planning to take your tulips to the show bench you probably don’t need to know much about those groups, but the descriptive names can be handy when you’re browsing for new ones. Singles and doubles are the tip of an iceberg that includes lily-flowered, peony-flowered, parrot, viridiflora, fringed and dwarf varieties. There is a lot of choice, and that’s before you consider the lovely species tulips and the different flowering seasons, early, mid and late.

Breeding certainly hasn’t stopped, either. Recently, crown tulips were introduced and while this isn’t a separate group (I believe they have been tucked into the triumph group, which is already very varied), it is a name that’s once again descriptive of the unusual flower shape.

In 2019 I grew five tulip varieties, all of them new or fairly new (introduced in the last couple of years) and, as you’ll see, at least a couple of these deserve to become firm favourites with gardeners. The first one of the five to open, a real beauty that I can see becoming very popular, is a delicate, two-toned pink tulip called ‘Bella Blush’. Sophisticated and elegant, it has long, straight stems and large blooms that held their shape well even in sunny weather, and lasted a good few weeks. The combination of shape and colour was cool and classy.

I also grew two new purple varieties called ‘Lilac Love’ (in the two right hand pictures below) and and ‘Magic Lavender’, which was recommended to me because of its colour (three left hand pictures). A curious mix of purple and metallic-pink (which doesn’t quite come across in my photos), the dainty flowers of ‘Magic Lavender’ were striking. I loved their shape, too, especially as, again, they didn’t open up too much in the sun like some tulips do.

When ‘Lilac Love’ first opened, I thought it was a bit insipid in comparison and the flowers too small, but the blooms got bigger and the stems longer, and then they started to fade in interesting ways. In the end I loved the ageing flowers, and they lasted very well.

On the more riotous side of the colour range, I grew ‘Rasta Parrot’, below. I took a series of photos showing how the tepals develop their colour. (Incidentally, for those who don’t know, a tepal is a cross between a sepal, which is the green, leaf-like structure of the bud that covers the developing flower, and a petal. A tepal starts off looking like a sepal, but instead of unfurling it changes colour and becomes part of the bloom.) Parrot tulips are meant to be flamboyant, so the streaky red and orange colours of ‘Rasta Parrot’ combined with its full, curvaceous shape fit the bill well, although with flowers this large and heavy, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that they tended to bend and flop when they were fully open. You’d have to decide whether you consider that a part of its louche charm, or a bit of a drawback.

I also grew the highly colourful ‘Peptalk’, which was registered in 2015. This fluffy-looking peony-flowered double has a lot of natural variation in the flower colour as well as in the heights of the different plants and the size of the blooms, so you get quite a varied display. When the blooms first opened the colours were still quite heavily tinged with the green of the tepals and I thought they were a bit dull, but as they matured they grew on me in more ways than one. For one thing they were scented, which is a huge plus for any flower, and then the colours continued to get richer and more interesting as the blooms opened fully. Their sumptuous display would probably best suit being grown as a group in a container.

The last tulip to open took me back to the more simple shapes of the early ones and again it was the colour of ‘Kansas Proud’, registered in 2019, that really made this flower beautiful. I loved the deep, rich, wine-red and the white base, and I thought the long, dusky green stems matched the flower colour. It didn’t break new ground, and there may be more striking purple varieties, but it was elegant and with its height it would look striking planted in a tall pot, or in a big group in a bed.

These are just a few of the many new varieties introduced every year, and they show something of the range that’s available. They also reflect the way these old favourites stay up to date with a colour range that keeps up with trends and appeals to modern gardeners. It would be hard to imagine a type of garden that wouldn’t be enhanced by at least one of these new varieties.

‘Bella Blush’ is being sold by Bloms Bulbs.

‘Lilac Love is being sold by Peter Nyssen

‘Magic Lavender’ is being sold by Bloms Bulbs

‘Rasta Parrot’ is being sold by Hayloft

‘Peptalk’ is being sold by Farmer Gracy

‘Kansas Proud’ is being sold by Peter Nyssen

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