My Favorite Tulip Varieties

Ilona Erwin

First of all, I love tulips, and one of my sayings is that they are “the lipstick of the garden”. Tulips just brighten up the visage of the spring garden in a way that no other of the plants can do. Azaleas have that bright color,but sometimes in almost a garish way, while the tulips have a deep, rich, smooth color that in its satin hues can be bright and blendable at the same time. I’ve grown a number of varieties over the years and thought you might like to know about some of my favorites.

Ivory Floradale when it first opens

Ivory Floradale when it first opens

Every garden needs a selection of “Darwins” -little bit of wordplay there! Darwin Hybrids are the tall, large sized, midseason blooms we always think of when planting tulips. Among them are several I would classify as “perennial tulips”. Since most tulips tend to “run out”, a variety that will continue for more than a season with a good sized bloom is desirable. Eventually some of them may need to be replaced or renewed, but I have observed them as blooming for a much longer time than the one season of many tulips.

Darwin hybrids are hardy, Zones 3 – 8.

It is known that E H Krelage of Haarlem in Netherlands grew the first Darwin tulips, and to show them off he created a mass bedding display in the fashion of the Victorians of his day at the opening of the Eiffel Tower. Darwin Hybrids were a result of hybridizing between the Darwin and the Fosteriana, and produce the strongest most long lasting flowers in our modern tulip plantings.

Whites, Pinks, and Maroon

‘Ivory Floradale’ is one the first that I would recommend. It is a large oval shaped bloom on a tall plant that has sturdy stems and fair sized leaves in a pleasing medium to light green. Year after year, despite competition of grass or perennial plants it shows up and blooms well in April. It begins with a pale yellow color, not unlike the ‘Golden Wings’ rose, but it doesn’t remain that color. It turns to a very lovely ivory white that visually carries very well in the garden for a long blooming period. Height:20 – 24 inches

‘Pink Impression’ is not as reliably long lasting, but it is the most delicious and scintillating pale pink.‘Pink Diamond’, Height: 20-22″ , is very pale and an ethereal partner for [Single Late Tulip] ‘Queen of the Night’ (I grew that one with good success) or it’s own partner ‘Black Diamond‘. ‘Queen of the Night’ came up dependably for many, many years and paired with Fritillaria persica, beautifully, in tone and bloomtime.

‘Clara Butt’ is an heirloom type of Single Late Tulip that my grandmother, then my father, and then I, also, grew in our gardens. It is a very attractive warm pink with smaller size blooms than you are used to with the very large blocky ones of the Darwin hybrids. They are quite charming and long lived, so I think that Clara earns a place in the garden. Blooms Late Spring with Height:18 to 22 inches. Photo. It is a good partner with forget me nots.

My early garden here had Queen of Bartigons tulips

My early garden here had Queen of Bartigons tulips

Esther is an ethereal pink of the Single Late type, 22-28″ tall. It is a lovely tulip, almost as pretty as Queen of the Bartigons which is one of my all time favorite pinks for looks and longevity. Plant both.Angeliqueis the best Double Late there is in my opinion. I came late to appreciate double tulips, but ‘Angelique’ won me over to their charms. Grow it near some pink peonies, they complement each other; add some White Hood daffodils nearby, too.

Golden Yellows, Orange, and Reds

For golden yellow and bright red the ‘Apeldoorn’ family or the ‘Parade’ family are perennial choices and growers. But my all time favorites for these colors have been the ‘Gen. Eisenhower’ and ‘President Kennedy, a bright red and bright yellow, respectively. The first year always has the largest blooms, but in following years they will still produce outstanding flowers.

The Red Emperor, T. fosteriana, is always a powerful bright red statement in the landscape. It stands out in early spring, one of the first tulips to bloom. 14-16″ tall.

I really, really like Lucky Strike. A red with a white edged Triumph tulip. Not quite as long lived but still worth having. One of my favorites. Grows 22″ tall.

A truly gorgeous tulip is Daydream. It is a Darwin hybrid of exceptional beauty and substance. It is a sunset in a flower, with shades of orange through golden orange that transform the look over the bloomtime. The color is not opaque, but glowing and really worth planting even if you think you don’t like orange. It is the orange of a summer ripe peach. 22-24″ Tall

General de Wetis also an orange, and an excellent tulip, but it does not go well with ‘Daydream’. Place it with a true yellow and something that is shorter in stature, like ‘Bellona‘ another variety in the Single Early class.

Lily-flowered Tulips

When I first purchased lily flowered tulips I bought them in a collection of colors. From the pictures they all look beautiful together, but when growing them, I found that while I appreciated the beauty and graceful forms of each one… I just did not like them all in combination with each other so well. You are forewarned ! The reds are very strong, as are the yellows. ‘Red Shine‘ and ‘West Point‘ are best in combination with each other or perhaps with ‘White Triumphator‘, although I think the white is best on its own or with the purple and white ‘Ballade‘. They are all very good in the garden -both for the look they have and for the many years of enjoyment they are likely to give you.

Lily-flowered tulip grows unperturbed by weeds

Lily-flowered tulip grows unperturbed by weeds

I think I will reserve my highest praise for one lily-flowered variety and that is Elegant Lady. The color is a subtle shading of rose blushed pink with cream white. It is breathtaking in combination with Dutch iris such as ‘Wedgewood‘ or ‘Blue Ideal’ and blue perennial flax. One of my happiest spring bloom pictures, was the year I planted those together in my city garden when I was first learning to apply my hand to gardening art. It was a lucky thing to have combined this grouping.

You can’t go wrong planting the lily-flowered group- they are wonderful in vases, too. Grow 20-24″ tall.

Lily Flowered Tulip Varieties

  • Elegant Lady
  • Ballade
  • Red Shine
  • West Point
  • White Triumphator

Bonus Opinions

Just a few words on some that I found very disappointing. One was Shirley, which I had high hopes for when I ordered it. Another was ‘Apricot Beauty’ which is always highly spoken of. I tried it twice and really did not care for it. It didn’t last long, and ran out quickly so I didn’t have long to live with that mistake. There were many that were short range choices and didn’t give much show after the first year… and I tend to find that a little disappointing, so I much prefer the ones that lasted more perennially.

Also, it may be difficult to locate sources for some of the older tulip varieties. I hope to find another for the heirloom tulip ‘Clara Butt’, as it was one I planted at my former home and have not found it to plant in my present garden.  As a rule, though, many of the specie tulips are long lasting in the garden, and the Darwin types will give a great show.

I am sure I will add to this post at a future time, once I jog my memory a bit more. So look for a second installment of this topic.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.