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Jan/Feb 2012

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Tip-toe through the tulips

Rachel Darlington draws inspiration from Holland

Last year, I was fortunate enough to visit the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland to see their famous tulip displays. I flew in and out the same day and had an exhilarating, if exhausting, time with a friend, oohing-and-ahhing over the oceans of immaculate blooms. And while it was all absolutely fabulous and completely overwhelming, the most salient thought that came home with me was that I could never replicate what I had seen there in my own garden.

But a year is a long time in the life of a garden and we should never say ‘never'. As autumn drew in and plants began to fade and then die, visions of the Keukenhof tulips kept sneaking, uninvited, into my mind. Before I knew it, and without ever intending to, I began musing on whether I could in fact copy some of the ideas I'd seen in Holland. Then I started nosing around on the internet, trying to source the large number of bulbs needed for such a project.

The first lesson from Keukenhof was that if you've got it, flaunt it! Tulips have an important role to play in providing spring interest to our existing borders. But this use was not evident in Keukenhof. In Holland the focus was on making a complete and perfect statement, solely with tulips. In my own small way, I decided to follow suit.

As good luck would have it, I already have a large annuals border in my garden but had never gone about using it to house a spring display. Until this year, that is. Normally the annuals border sits idle until the first of June, when the 600 annuals that I grow from seed each year to fill it emerge from the greenhouse. This year it is not idle.

For maximum impact, I decided to keep my choice of tulips simple, using just two types which would complement each other and flower simultaneously. I chose my favourite tulip of all time, one I was pleased to have seen utilised extensively in Keukenhof - the beautiful orange and red ‘Prinses Irene' and to accompany it the red ‘Carlton'. To clarify: when I mentioned complementing colours a moment ago, I really meant clashing.

My tulips are planted in alternating blocks of colour for maximum impact. There is nothing like hot vibrant colours to invigorate one in spring, and orange, jostling with red, certainly fits that bill. Then, for calming effect and to show that I do have some taste after all, the whole bed is flanked by a gracefully weeping white cherry blossom that should be in flower with the tulips in April. I can hardly wait to see how this turns out!




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