my own private tulipomania

crazy town, right?

There’s a lot of the traditional horticultural canon that can be grown well here at the moist Oregon Coast in zone 8b/9a that I’m skipping so far– hellebores, roses, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, hostas, maples, Oriental poppies, peonies, clematis to name a few. So you could say I’m not a true traditionalist. And yet I fall hard for tulips, one of the most common spring bulbs, culprits in the most garish displays, hawked from the cheapest wholesalers. Why is that? (Doesn’t everybody interrogate their garden choices?) I even grew a few pots of tulips in zone 10, when the bulbs had to be refrigerated before potting and then kept diligently watered if the winter was dry. Here in wet zone 8bish the bulbs are potted up in fall and placed out in the rain. Done.


So out of all the worthy genera in the horticultural hall of fame, I fall for tulips. Why?


What I Like About Tulips

  • Tulips are light catchers.
  • Tulips are intensely architectural
  • Tulips are agents of transformation, something true of all bulbs.
  • Tulips are ephemeral. (Let’s hope the hybridizers never meddle with this sacred trait, which would drain all meaning from the experience.). They are the horticultural equivalent of a one-night stand, a spring bacchanal. No commitment required. An extravagant exclamation point after a long, rainy winter.
  • Tulips are one of the few overly hybridized genera that I’m on board with. They are fantastical creatures to begin with, so it’s nearly impossible to take things too far.

We were away for 12 days or so, just when the tulips in pots were coloring up. It was entertaining enough to order them, pot them, wait and watch for them to nose up, elongate and form that iconic shape. I consoled myself, if the blooms were done by the time we returned, no big deal. Sometimes the process is as satisfying as the result. But that practiced philosophical shrug was unnecessary. Cool, rainy weather prevailed to slow the blooms down just enough until our return.

Fritillaria persica ‘Green Dreams’

I like tulips in pots, a concentrated, intense dose of the life force to light the match that ignites the garden in spring. I doubt I would plant them in the ground as part of a spring landscape even if I had the space. They would be completely out of character in my little garden, which is more textural, even bordering on austere. These fritillaries, on the other hand, I would totally plant in the garden for spring, if they weren’t so expensive and apparently unreliable as far as repeat bloom.

I did check on the fritillaries I saw last year, and there are no flowers this year, just leaves, which apparently is common with this fritillary, so not a reliable repeat performance.

Just a half dozen or so pots, but it’s my own private tulipomania.

This entry was posted in Bulbs, Oregon garden, pots and containers. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to my own private tulipomania

  1. Kris P says:

    They’re gorgeous, Denise. I’m SO envious! I have tried the fancy tulips in containers on several occasions in my garden and my previous one, going through the whole chilling exercise and careful watering. only to have them succumb to untimely Santa Ana winds before reaching bloom stage. I got a minor thrill out of some pre-sprouted bulbs picked up at the local garden center a few years ago but I haven’t seen them sold that way since. However, I’ve had some success with species tulips, specifically T. clusiana, and I’m going to make do with that.

  2. Elaine says:

    Your little grouping is beautiful. What’s not to love about tulips at this time of year? There are so many colours so for those of us starving for something other than white or brown they are very welcome. So envious that you can pot yours up and leave them outside. I do a few pots but I have to tuck them into the garage to spend the winter and then go through the dance of moving them ‘in and out’ early in Spring. Must be worth it though as I do it every year.

  3. The colors on that first one! Wow.

    I do love the flowers, the foliage, not so much. Which is why my favorite way to enjoy them is as cut flowers. Even then they (as you say) are agents of transformation. Elongating, twisting, opening their petals further and further until they begin to fall. I think I need to buy some cut stems today!

  4. Denise says:

    @Kris, ‘Queen of the Night’ seemed fairly reliable as far as prechilling. Without checking the blog, I remember ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Gavota’ doing well too. But the blooms do not last long unless luck provides a cool spring. And once they’re budding it’s always best to move the pots to a sheltered spot out of full sun.
    @Elaine, I did move some pots into the shed for the ice storm but left a few outside and assumed they were goners…not so! And the clay pots themselves haven’t broken so far either…
    @Loree, I have the mentality of a kindergartener as far growing tulips in pots. Bought cut flwrs are beautiful too, but for me nothing beats watching them come alive in pots.

  5. Jerry says:

    My favorites are the Flaming Parrot parrot tulips, but I do have a special fondness for most of them. I’ve only got T. humilus in the garden right now, which is the only one that the rodents haven’t found and blooms reliably every year. Love the under shot of Fritillaria persica too. Gorgeous!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *