Tulips Bring Brilliant Color and Elegant Form to the Spring Garden

Tulips are one of my most eagerly anticipated arrivals in the spring garden.  The glorious brilliant colors and forms shout spring and should not be missed.  Tulips are easy to grow and lend themselves to beds, borders, containers, and window boxes.  They can be dotted in a perennial border as accents, or densely planted in groups for swathes of color.  The different types can be planted together for a succession of bloom to harmonize with other colors, or for a continuation of a specific color scheme.  As an example, a lovely succession of white tulips could be ‘White Marvel,’ a Single Early for starters, continuing with ‘Mondial,’ a Double Early, then ‘Francoise,’ a Triumph and ‘Hakuun,’ a Darwin Hybrid for mid-season and finish up with ‘White Triumphator,’ a Lily-Flowered, ‘Maureen,’ a Single Late, ‘Mount Tacoma,’ a Double Late, and ‘Honeymoon,’ a Fringed tulip.  It is a nice idea anyway to plant tulip bulbs with early, mid, and late bloom times to extend the season.         

One issue with tulips is that they are not always reliably perennial, especially in warmer climates.  In fact, in the South they are usually treated as annuals and replanted each year.  This does give the opportunity to change color schemes.  There are some groups that perennialize better than others including the Darwin Hybrids, Triumphs, Fosterianas, Kaufmannianas, Greigiis, and the wild species tulips.  A couple that I have had luck returning for several years were ‘Negrita’ and ‘Happy Generation,’ both Triumphs.

One nice way to grow tulips since many of them do not return reliably year-after-year, is to plant them in containers.  This is easy to do and makes for a beautiful display especially when grouped together.  Plant the bulbs in containers in the fall—best time is late October-early November—and don’t be afraid to plant them closely in the pot, closer than you normally would in the garden.  Use a good quality potting mix, water, and wait for spring.  Another way to do it is to plant a “bulb lasagne”—layered bulbs that will bloom in succession.  Place a few broken pieces of old pot on the bottom for good drainage, then plant a layer of bulbs about 8” deep about a bulb’s width apart, cover with about 4” of good potting soil or compost, plant a second layer the same way, add 4” more soil and add a third layer if desired, or top off with pansies or violas.  A mixture of bulbs can be planted with the latest bloomers on the bottom, mid-season in the center and earliest on top.  So, it could be a succession of tulips, or a mixture of tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs like crocuses or grape hyacinths.  A lovely way to display spring bulbs!

Tulips have been classified into 15 divisions determined by their shapes, growth habits, and bloom times.

Division 1:  Single Early Tulips

Single Early, Zones 3-8.  Early flowering on short stems, and often scented.  Selections include 'Apricot Beauty,' pink; 'Beauty Queen,' pale pink; 'Bestseller,' coppery orange flushed with rose; 'Couleur Cardinal,' red flushed with rose on outside; 'Duchesse de Parma,' scarlet edged with yellow; 'Sunny Prince,' yellow; 'White Elegance,' white. 

Tulipa 'Apricot Beauty'Tulipa 'Apricot Beauty'
Tulipa 'Couleur Cardinal'Tulipa 'Couleur Cardinal'

Division 2:  Double Early Tulips

Double Early, Zones 3-7.  Double Early tulips bloom early in the season like their single cousins but with multiple petals, and are often fragrant.   Cultivars include 'Alice Leclercq,' orange-red with yellow edge; 'Foxy Foxtrot,' shades of gold, amber and rose; 'Melrose,' rose and cream; 'Mondial,' white; 'Monte Carlo,' yellow; and 'Showcase,' purple.

Tulipa 'Foxy Foxtrot' is an example of the Division 2 Early Double class.Tulipa 'Foxy Foxtrot'
Tulip 'Monte Carlo'Tulip 'Monte Carlo'
Tulipa 'Showcase' is an example of the Division 2 Double Early class.Tulipa 'Showcase'

Division 3:  Triumph Tulips

Triumphs,  Zones 3-7.  Triumphs were developed from crosses between Early Single and Darwin Hybrid tulips, bloom mid-season, and will often return year after year.  Some notable hybrids are 'Arabian Mystery,' purple and white; 'Bastogne,' red; 'Calgary,' white suffused with yellow; 'Gabriella,' pink and cream; 'Gavota,' maroon and yellow; 'Happy Generation,' white with red and yellow blotch in center, is show below (the leaves are also edged in white); 'Negrita,' purple; and ‘Prinses Irene,’ a glorious combination indeed of orange, purple flames, and a bit of yellow and green.

Tulipa 'Gander's Rhapsody'Tulipa 'Gander's Rhapsody'
Tulip 'Gavota'Tulip 'Gavota'
Tulipa 'Happy Generation'Tulipa 'Happy Generation'
Tulipa 'Negrita'Tulipa 'Negrita'
Tulipa 'Prinses Irene' is an example of the Division 3 Triumph class.Tulipa 'Prinses Irene'

Division 4:  Darwin Hybrid Tulips

Darwin Hybrids, Zones 3-7.  Darwin Hybrids have large flowers with the classic tulip shape on sturdy stems and bloom at the height of the tulip season in late April to May.  There are many outstanding cultivars including 'Akebono,' yellow; 'Apeldoorn' red; 'Gudoschnik' yellow streaked with rose-red giving an overall salmon-ish look (interesting in that each flower is slightly different--some may be more yellow, some more red); 'Holland's Glory,' red; 'Ivory Floradale' (also known as 'Cream Jewsl), white and cream;  'Ollioules' rose and ivory (shown below at Keukenhof); 'Pink Impression,' pink; 'Red Impression,' red; 'Salmon Impression,' salmon-apricot.

Tulipa 'Gudoshnik' is an example of the Division 4 Darwin Hybrid class.  Very variable, each bloom is unique in solid tones or streaked with red, rose, yellow and orange.Tulipa 'Gudoshnik'
Tulipa 'Ivory Floradale' is an example of the Division 4 Darwin Hybrid class.Tulipa 'Ivory Floradale' (also called 'Cream Jewel')
Tulip 'Ollioules'Tulip 'Ollioules'
Tulip 'Pink Impression'Tulip 'Pink Impression'
Tulip 'Red Impression'Tulip 'Red Impression'

Division 5:  Single Late Tulips

Single Late, Zones 3-8.   These tall, late-blooming tulips are the aristocrats of the spring garden.  They have the classic, elegant goblet shape that one associates with tulips.  Many favorites are here including  'Avignon,' red; 'Maureen,' pure white;  'Menton,' pink;  'Mrs. John T. Scheepers ,' yellow; 'Perestroyka,' orange-raspberry; 'Queen of Night,' deep purple; 'Renown,' deep pink;  'Sorbet' white with raspberry flames; and 'Violet Beauty,' violet-purple.

Tulip 'Maureen'Tulip 'Maureen'
Tulip 'Mrs. John T. Scheepers'Tulip 'Mrs. John T. Scheepers'
Tulip 'Perestroyka'Tulip 'Perestroyka'
Tulip 'Menton'Tulip 'Menton'
Tulipa 'Sorbet'Tulipa 'Sorbet'

Division 6:  Lily-Flowered Tulips

Lily Flowered, Zones 3-7.  These graceful tulips have outward flaring petals resembling the shape of a lily.  Some cultivars to try include 'Ballade,' pink and white; 'Ballerina,' orange; 'Budlight,' yellow and white; 'Green Star,' green and white; 'Mariette,' rose-pink; 'Marilyn,' red and white; 'Red Shine,' red, and 'West Point,' yellow.

Lily-Flowered TulipsLily-Flowered Tulips
Tulip 'Budlight' is an example of the Division 6 Lily-Flowered class.  a cheerful combination of lemon-yellow with broad white edges makes this tulip a standout in the spring garden.Tulip 'Budlight'
Tulipa 'Mariette' is an example of the Division 6 Lily-Flowered class. 'Mariette' is a lovely rose-pink with softer pink on the edges of the petals.Tulipa 'Mariette'
Tulipa 'White Triumphator' is an example of the Division 6 Lily-Flowered class.  Pure white, and supremely elegant, this tulip is a classic.Tulipa 'White Triumphator'

Division 7:  Fringed Tulips

Fringed, Zones 3-7.  Fringed, sometimes called Crispa, tulips have finely cut edges that look like they were tipped with frost, or dipped in salt on the edge of a margarita glass.   'Cummins,' lavender-blue with contrasting white fringe, is one of the most distinctive; 'Daytona' is pure white; 'Flaming Baltic' is white with raspberry flames; 'Fringed Elegance' is soft yellow with a touch of red;  'Honeymoon' is white; 'Max Durand' is purple;  'Santander' is pink; and 'Sunset Miami' is magenta-pink edged with golden fringe.

Tulipa 'Flaming Baltic' is an example of the Division 7 Fringed class.  Though not as fringed as some, 'Flaming Baltic' is nonetheless a knockout of pure white with deep raspberry flames.Tulipa 'Flaming Baltic'
Tulip 'Fringed Elegance' is an example of the Division 7 Fringed class.  Yellow with often a few red splashes and a black center, this tulip returned for me for several years.Tulip 'Fringed Elegance'
Tulipa 'Honeymoon' is an example of the Division 7 Fringed class.  Pure white with a heavy crystalline fringe.Tulipa 'Honeymoon'
Tulip 'Santander' is an example of the Division 7 Fringed class.  Delightful rosy pink with heavy fringing.Tulip 'Santander'

Division 8:  Viridiflora Tulips

Division 8:  Viridiflora, Zones 3-7.  Viridiflora tulips are available in many colors, but their common characteristic is some green in their petals.  Some nice ones are 'Artist,' a stunning combination of salmon, rose and green; ‘China Town,’ soft pink and green; 'Golden Artist,' yellow with red and green; ‘Flaming Spring Green,’ white with streaks of red and green; 'Greenland,' pink and green; 'Spring Green,' white and green, and ‘Virichic,’ deep pink and green.

Tulipa 'China Town'Tulipa 'China Town'
Tulip 'Flaming Spring Green'Tulip 'Flaming Spring Green'
Tulipa 'Spring Green'Tulipa 'Spring Green'
Tulipa 'Virichic'Tulipa 'Virichic'

Division 9:  Rembrandt Tulips

Rembrandt Tulips.   These are the famous tulips that were the heart of the tulip craze of the 1600's and were depicted in Dutch still lifes by artists of the day.  Rembrandt tulips are characterized by their streaked, broken color patterns which are actually a mutation caused by a mosaic virus.  While Dutch hybridizers have developed lots of tulips with variegated color patterns in other divisions through breeding, true Rembrandt tulips are actually hard to come by today because the virus that causes the feathered patterns also makes for weak plants, and so they are not widely cultivated.  Some modern hybrids with a Rembrandt look include  'Flaming Flag,' white with purple, 'Grand Perfection,' cream w/burgundy-red markings, 'Prinses Irene,' orange w/purple flames, 'Rembrandt's Favorite,' a purple and white bi-color--all Triumphs; 'Burning Heart,' white w/red flames, and 'Olympic Flame,' yellow with red flames--both Darwin Hybrids;  'Flaming Spring Green,' a mutation of 'Spring Green' with white, red and green--a Viridiflora; and 'World Expression,' a red and yellow Single Late.  Check out www.oldhousegardens.com if you are interested in some genuine broken tulips.

A Rembrandt look-alide, 'Flaming Flag,' a Triumph tulipA Rembrandt look-alide, 'Flaming Flag,' a Triumph tulip
Tulipa 'Insulinde' is an example of the Division 9 Rembrandt class. 'Insulinde' has a white ground streaked and flamed with purple.  Fascinating how the patterns are different on all sides.Tulipa 'Insulinde,' a modern broken tulip.

This still life by Hans Bollongier, 1639, from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, depicts the streaked patterning in tulips that caused such a high demand for the bulbs in the 17th c. 

Still Life by Hans BollongierStill Life by Hans Bollongier

Division 10:  Parrot Tulips

Parrot, Zones 4-7.  As if tulips in general weren't eye-catching enough, the parrots are the true peacocks of the tulip world.  Large, flamboyant flowers often have twisting or curled petals with deeply ruffled or fringed edges , and usually include two colors--often some green as well.  They are fun to grow and great for arrangements, but are best treated as annuals as they do not reliably return year-after-year in the garden.  Some favorite ones include 'Black Parrot,' a deep purple; 'Estella Rijnveld,' red and white with a bit of green; 'Flaming Parrot,' yellow and red;  'Rococo,' red with purple and green; and 'Weber's Parrot,' pink and cream.

Tulip 'Apricot Parrot'Tulip 'Apricot Parrot'
Tulipa 'Estella Rijnveld' is an example of the Division 10 Parrot class. A gorgeous tulip with red and white flames and sometimes a touch of green.Tulipa 'Estella Rijnveld'
Tulipa 'Flaming Parrot'Tulipa 'Flaming Parrot'
Tulipa 'Rococo'Tulipa 'Rococo'
Tulipa 'Weber's Parrot'Tulipa 'Weber's Parrot'

Division 11:  Double Late Tulips

Double Late, Zones 3-7.  Also called peony tulips, the double lates are large, full, delectable flowers wonderful to grow for arrangements.  A huge favorite, 'Angelique,' rose and cream, is shown below.  Others include 'Black Hero,' deep maroon-purple; 'Blue Diamond,' deep violet-blue; 'Carnival de Nice,' white with red streaks; 'Double Maureen', white; 'La Belle Epoque,' a delicious combination of rose, cream and caramel; 'Pink Star,' pink; 'Sensual Touch,' orange and fringed; and 'Yellow Baby,' yellow.

Tulip 'Angelique'Tulip 'Angelique'
Tulipa 'Blue Diamond'Tulipa 'Blue Diamond'
Tulip 'La Belle Epoque'Tulip 'La Belle Epoque'

Division 12:  Kaufmanniana Tulips

Kaufmanniana, Zones 3-8.  Also called water-lily tulips for their wide-opening flowers, Kaufmanniana hybrids are shorter (about 8-10") and are better candidates for naturalizing than some of their taller cousins.  They often have interesting mottled or striped foliage to add to their charm. Varieties include 'Concerto,' yellow; 'Giuseppe Verdi' (yellow w/red; 'Ice Stick' white w/rose and yellow base; Shakespeare'' red and salmon; and 'Stresa' red w/yellow edges.

Tulipa 'Concerto'Tulipa 'Concerto'

Division 13:  Fosteriana Tulips

Fosteriana, Zone 3-8.  Fosterianas are also called Emperor tulips.  They are characterized by large blooms, tall stems and mid-spring flowering.  Some choices include 'Albert Heijn,' pink; 'Exotic Emperor,' the double version of 'White Emperor,' white with green markings; 'Flaming Purissima,' ivory and rose; 'Madame Lefeber,' red; 'Red Emperor,' red; 'White Emperor,' white; and 'Yellow Purissima,' yellow.

Tulipa Albert Heijn'Tulipa Albert Heijn'
Tulipa 'Exotic Emperor'Tulipa 'Exotic Emperor'

Division 14:  Greigii Tulips

Greigii, Zones 3-7.  Greigii tulips are well-known for their striped or mottled foliage.  Low-growing, they are perfect for groups of bright color near the front of the border.  Varieties include  'Kiev,' red with yellow edges;  'Oratorio,' rose; 'Pinocchio,' red and white; 'Quebec,' rose and cream; 'Red Riding Hood,' red; and 'Tottori,' pink.

Tulipa 'Quebec' is an example of the Division 14 Greigii class.Tulipa greigii 'Quebec'
Tulipa greigii 'Pinocchio'Tulipa greigii 'Pinocchio'
Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood'Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood'

Division 15:  Other Species Tulips

Other Species.  These are the wild tulips and their hybrids not included in the other categories. 

I have been adding a few more species tulips to my garden each year since they can perennialize and last longer than most of the larger hybrids.  They all prefer full sun and good drainage.  Place them where their cheerful colors can be appreciated as they welcome spring such as at the front of borders, or along a path. 

T bakeri 'Lilac Wonder,' Zones 3-8.  A charming little tulip and a good perennializer.  Long-lasting in the garden.

Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder'Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder'

T. clusiana, Zones 3-9.  Also called Lady Tulip, this is the sort you would expect to find in a monastery's cloister or medieval herb garden.  Charming, dainty and graceful,  the Lady Tulip has white petals with the outer 3 (tepals) flushed with pink.  Closed they look like peppermint sticks.  A fully opened flower reveals a white interior with a deep purple blotch in the center.  Good for cottage gardens and the perennial border .   'Lady Jane' is a soft rose pink with white interior and yellow blotch in the center; 'Tinka' is rose with a creamier interior;  T. clusiana var chrysantha, (below) the candlestick tulip, has red petals edged with yellow and yellow interiors.

Tulipa clusianaTulipa clusiana
Tulipa clusiana var. chrysanthaTulipa clusiana var. chrysantha
Tulipa clusiana 'Iinka'Tulipa clusiana 'Iinka'

T. humilis 'Alba Coerulea Oculata,' Zones 4-8.  This one has red outer petals that open to white with a deep blue center.

Tulipa humilis 'Alba Coerulea Oculata'Tulipa humilis 'Alba Coerulea Oculata'

T. saxitilis, Zones 5-10.  Blooming in mid-spring, these low-growers (about 6")  open distinctive pinkish-lilac petals  wide to reveal  bright yellow centers. 

Tulipa saxitilisTulipa saxitilis

T. turkestanica, Zones 3-8.  A native of Turkey, for which it is named, T. turkestanica is a charming multi-flowered tulip with white petals and yellow-orange centers, with often purple-tipped anthers. 

Tulipa turkestanicaTulipa turkestanica

Multi-Flowering or Bouquet Tulips:  While this is not an officially recognized classification of tulips, nonetheless, multi-flowering tulip varieties have one distinct feature.  These tulips produce multiple blooms per stem creating instant bouquets and creating a fuller display in the garden with fewer bulbs.  However, that is almost all they have in common.  Bloom times, heights and flower forms differ from variety to variety because multi-flowering tulips can occur in any of the above 15 official classifications. Here are some varieties to look for: ‘Antoinette,’ a color changing variety from yellow and white with pink maturing to salmon; ‘Candy Club,’ lovely ivory with pink; ‘Happy Family,’ pink with lighter edges; T. praestans ‘Fusilier,’ a species in flaming scarlet; or T. praestans ‘Shogun,’ brilliant tangerine; and T. turkestanica (see above under Division 15).

Tulipa 'Happy Family'Tulipa 'Happy Family'

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