Tips for ordering tulip bulbs

In my book, The Flower Farmer's Year, I advocate a 'bold' bulb budget for anybody growing flowers for cutting.  For me, most of that budget is spent annually on tulip bulbs.

Unless you're growing tulips as flowers which you'd like to naturalise about the place, I say grow tulips as annuals.  The bulbs are inexpensive (currently - increasingly warm winters may put paid to that eventually!) and for a smallish investment you can completely reinvent your cutting garden's look each spring.  Besides, I won't necessarily love the lemon coloured tulips I had this year in the same way next, or I might find a colour which really sang for me this, comparitively dull next.  Fashions change, tastes change, and the desire for a particularly coloured/shaped tulip changes from year to year too.

So what are my top tips?

  • Order in August from a reputable supplier.  All good bulb suppliers have excellent websites, often showing pleasing combinaitons of bulbs together, so pour yourself a cup of something pleasurable, give yourself an hour or two's leisure, and sit down to enjoy yourself.
  • For a long season of tulip flowering pleasure do look at a mixture of early and late flowering tulips.  the earlies tend to flower on much shorter stems, but you can pull them from the ground to give yourself a good seven or eight inches more stem length for your floristry when the time comes.  You might also look at more interesting varieties than the bog standard: double tulips often have the most delicious scent, Verona being my fave: it smells like a lemon vanilla pudding.  Parrot tulips are heaven, but can go over quickly in hot weather.  Of course, if the spring is early and dry, no matter what careful tulip succession you've planned, they sometimes to all flower together, and if the season is late and cold the same happens.  But on the off chance that you have the perfect combination of cold winter days, not too much rain, gentle sunshine in manageable quantities (I'm putting myself in the tulip's place here,) you may get the successional flowering you originally desired.
  • Once you've put your list together, in the notes for delivery on the order form, do say you wouldn't like your bulbs to be delivered until a certain date in November.  Otherwise your bulbs will arrive straight away and you'll have to keep them cool and out of the way of mould spores and mice until it's time to plant them in November.  I have looked at my diary and asked for my tulip bulbs to be delivered at the beginning of the second week in November.  Do similarly and you've given yourself time to clear space in your annual beds, mulch them, prepare them, and be ready for the bulbs when they arrive.  Which means the tulip bulbs will be kept in the perfectly-temperate-for-them conditions at the bulb suppliers until you're ready to get them straight in the ground.  Being generally overwhelmed with too much to do, I like to be very organised with my diary, and so I have written in bright pink Sharpie, 'TULIPS ARRIVE,' and hopefully the fact that the tulips are arriving in my diary as well as in real life, and that I've blocked out the day we'll need for planting them already means that there's no way the tulips bulbs, once delivered here, will languish in their boxes, looking at me reproachfully, while I put other commitments first.

So be bold with your tulip order, remember to tell the supplier when you'd like your bulbs delivered, clear and prep your ground in advance, and enjoy a great big show of colour and delight and SCENT next spring when you come to harvest.