Tall tulips are the best tulips to use at the end of spring in your garden borders. Nature has been kind to gardeners by coming up with a range of really tall-growing, bold and beautiful tulips that flower just at the moment when they are needed.
Tulips come in all sorts of sizes: exquisite miniature species for alpine beds and pots, familiar singles and doubles for mass planting throughout the garden landscape and also tall, prima donnas awaiting their curtain call at the end of spring. All have their uses and the tall, late tulips are a special case in point.
In spring things happen fast in the garden. Shrubs will be bursting into flower and leaf by the end of April and are rapidly joined by their perennial partners. There will be ground-covering perennials bursting into early flower such as pulmonarias, aquilegias, brunneras and a host of early bulbs. Additionally, many plants that will not start flowering until later will be shooting into growth.
Summer flowering perennials make rapid growth once temperatures rise and by the beginning of May many will have formed substantial clumps of foliage. In May, short-growing tulips would be quickly overtaken in mixed borders containing groups of fast growing daylilies, oriental poppies, euphorbias, phlox and ornamental grasses, for example. Clearly, this is where we might look for tulips that can stand high, boldly-upright amidst the frenzied activity surrounding them.
In many ways this is a situation where bigger is going to be better. In late spring there is not going to be the space in mixed borders for wide drifts of hundreds of tulip bulbs. Instead, we need bold specimen plants that individually make their mark. Tulips that might grow 60 to 80 cm. tall would look ridiculous if the ground around them was bare as in early spring, but by May, amidst shrubs and the burgeoning clumps of perennials, they fit in perfectly.
Tall tulips need to be planted singly, in gentle drifts through the middle and the rear zones of garden borders. Placed within the context of other garden plants these tulips will present their dramatic colours and bold flowers as crowning jewels. You don’t need many of these magical flowers to make an impact.
Tulip ‘Big Smile’ is a good example of these long-stemmed, late-flowering tulips to start with. Its parentage includes one of the most famous Single-Late group tulips Mrs John T. Scheepers. The elongated, oval-shaped flowers of Tulip ‘Big Smile’ are lemon yellow on opening, maturing to deeper yellow during its long flowering period. I grow it amidst clumps of Calamagrostis x acutiflora, an ornamental grass that makes substantial fine-leaved clumps very early in the spring, long before coming into flower itself.
Renown is a pink cultivar of similar heritage that has, in the past, played an important role in the breeding of good tulip varieties for the production of cut flowers. Additionally, it has also produced offspring, known as sports, that are very important for us as gardeners. Avignon is truly dramatic with its rich orange petals washed over with pink that are also attractive in bud when bronze and terracotta shades start to develop.
Perhaps the most popular of any of this family is Menton. Tulip ‘Menton’ is light pink with an attractive faint orange glow. This has in its turn produced one of my all time favourite tulips, Dordogne. Now the pink of Menton is washed in clear orange to create flowers that radiate warmth and light.
A new addition to this assortment is Clearwater. Here we have a pure white alternative to pink Menton making it the perfect partner for it in a mixed planting. However, not mass-planted, but random and widely scattered across the back of a sunny garden border; sprinkle them like pink and white confetti.
A number of Lily-flowered tulips are also late-flowering and relatively tall-growing. Not all are tall, but one that must be mentioned here is Jacqueline. It grows just as tall as the others tulips so far mentioned; the flowers are very large especially when opened wide by sunshine. Tulip ‘Jacqueline’ flowers deep, uncompromising pink.
To end on a different note we must not forget Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ and its double sport ‘Black Hero’. Their flowers, deep maroon, are almost black and small when compared with the dramatic Single Late group tulips mentioned above. However, their size does not detract from their impact in a mixed border planting. However, I would plant a lot more of these distinctive tulips, in drifts, through a mixed border than the larger flowered varieties. Working like dots and commas, they serve to punctuate any late spring border. It is not surprising that these black tulips are some of the most popular of all.