Darwin Tulips

The lipstick of the garden

…will make you smile

There are a few matters to consider in creating a spring display of bloom that shows the best effects. Certain types of tulips bloom at certain intervals of the season. Besides this, tulips come in heights that vary widely enough to need attention when planting, so the taller ones do not obscure the shorter ones.

These things are true of daffodils, also, so you can apply your planning points to these as well. Then, as in all of bloom time planning, there are companion plantings which accentuate tulips as they bloom. It is really fun to put it all together, and you might consider making a “Spring Corner” just for the full effect of this type of garden.


Planting Tulips

Use tips for display, like underplanting, for getting the most exciting spring garden effects.


An effective way to accentuate your spring show is “underplanting”, or pairing your tulips with smaller bulbs or low growing perennials. When you have chosen the varieties of tulips, the planting directions will state a preferred planting depth. The easiest way to plant a spring border is to excavate it all together in a large shape. This is also called the “trench method”.

How To Plant Tulips Quickly, Using The Trench Method

When you have chosen the varieties of tulips, the planting directions will state a preferred planting depth. The easiest way to plant a spring border is to excavate it all together in a large shape. This is also called the “trench method”.

After purchasing your bulbs, just work up your soil, add some bone meal, plant at the depths stated (usually 6-8 inches), add a layer of soil to about two inches below the final surface. On this you plant smaller bulbs such as crocus for early bloomers, or scillas for mid-blooming. These are only two of the possibilities.

Snow crocus are probably too early, and you should choose the larger sized Dutch crocus for trying to coincide with the tulip bloom. I say, “try”, because each year can prove some variations in bloom times. That is just the nature of the garden! Better choices would include other minor bulbs such as Anemone blanda, muscari, or scillas.

Blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) are lovely with tulips, as well as the windflower anemones, Anemone blanda. The anemones come in pink, blue, and white color choices.

Of the many lowgrowing perennial plant for underplanting, my favorites are the alyssum saxatile ‘Citrinum’, and “Basket of Gold”; violas; candytuft, Iberis sempervirens; ajuga; thymes; Arabis alpina; forget-me-not, Myosotis; moss phlox, Phlox subulata; I have a post on these low growing perennials, which discusses all the details.

One of the benefits of long lasting and good looking foliage of the Iberis and the thymes is that they look good in all seasons, and the garden does not then need additional plants to fill in where the bulbs were.

The approach for tulips is different than for daffodils. First consideration is color: daffodils will mix and match in sunrise, yellow and cream tints, so color is not an issue. Tulips, like lipsticks, are bright or light, anything from orange to lavender, and of so many forms and intensities that it is like using a new paintbox. You can give your garden the face color you want- even clown makeup!

The safe and easy way to use tulips is in front of evergreens,at the foot of trees, or beside walks. They can be placed in blocks or drifts. The tulips are framed and no need to worry that after June the space is bare. It is a little trickier integrating them into a garden bed. I invariably slice some when working later in the season, and the areas they inhabit must have some late showing perennial to take their place. Tulip foliage is much better to deal with than daffodil, and some of the Greigii type actually have nice striped leaves. Still, all will fade and disappear by Mid- June.

~My own top favorite tulip varieties~

Soft or bright, the colors of tulips are cheerful in the spring, but they leave a visual empty place when dormant in the garden. What to do?


Overplantings fill in the patches left by summer dormant bulbs.

The best plants are those which sprout late and do not often need division. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) and hostasare ideal.

I am experimenting now with encouraging Eupatorium coelestinum to cover one area. I started with Achillea milleflorium, but that was unsatisfactory on many counts. The hardy ageratum appears very late; it can be weedy in some soils, but not in my garden. Beautiful blue puffs of flowers coincide with the golden, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and this makes a good replacement of color once bulbs are long gone.

lilac wonder
  After you have chosen the varieties of tulips to plant for bloom at early, mid, or late season, you can choose “underplantings”and “overplantings” The underplantings of smaller bulbs or low growing spring bloom perennials; and overplantings of those late sprouting plants to cover the bare spaces left by the ripening and disappearing of the bulb plant foliage. Hostas are are one of the best since they sprout late, have gorgeous foliage, and don’t need to be disturbed for division.

Tulips Together

I’ve always liked certain tulips in pairings. The almost black “Queen of the Night” with the ethereal pale “Pink Diamond”, both Darwins; “Esther” and “Negrita” would produce a similar effect. Yellow ‘Mrs. John T. Scheepers’ and the pale yellow becoming white “Ivory Floradale” create drifts of light. For a bright carnival color group the ‘Apeldoorns’ are good quality perennial tulips in red, yellow, and red and yellow stripes.

perennial tulips

Tulips blooming, from those bulbs in the video

Pink and white tulips are beautiful together and “Angelique” has both colors in one bloom. It is a double tulip, and I like it paired with white jonquils, ” Mt. Hood”. They are about the same height and both have that full look that complements each other.

White Flower Farm suggests this combo:
“peachy ‘Apricot Beauty’; carmine-rose-and-orange ‘Jimmy’; rose-pink ‘Baronesse’; rosy ‘Mariette’; carmine-red ‘Princess Victoria’, and dark crimson ‘Uncle Tom’. The hot colors are cooled by plum ‘Negrita’ and violet-blue ‘Blue Parrot’.”

Tips for Cut Flowers


  • Cut tulips early in the morning, before the bloom fully opens. Snip the whitish bottom of the stem.
  • Condition the flowers by immersing to the neck of the flower in cool water.
  • Remember that whatever stem and leaves are cut will be less food for next years flowers.
  • Having a cutting area with bulbs that are for that purpose might be the best solution.


Handy garden snips are just the thing to gather flowers for bouquets, or to deadhead those tulips left in the garden.

A list of the different sorts of Tulips:

Descriptions of Tulip Categories

For garden chores and seasonal tasks see Month by Month Garden Calendar

surrounded by forget-me-nots


tall stature, the ones people usually think of with the word tulip. The ones that are perennial are often in this group.


many of the old-fashioned varieties that often have fragrance and longevity in the garden.


early bloom, large blooms on mid-size plants. “Red Emperor” is a popular example.


very early bloom and low stature. The “Water-lily” tulip is this type: very early and very lovely.


bloom a little after the Kaufmanniana. These have interesting markings on their foliage and are some of the best early blooming, low growing tulips.


The cottage tulips are part of this group. They do not bloom as late as lily-flowered types, but more around the time of the Darwins.

late blooming and long lasting perennial type. I don’t think all their colors mix well together, but when used in combination with other bulbs and plants their unique beauty is highlighted. Favorites: ‘Ballade’ is a purple trimmed with white, ‘Elegant Lady’ is buttercream and raspberry-topped, ‘White Triumphator’ is a clean white.
Botanical (specie)
these are very low stature, about the same height as most of the minor bulbs. A combination could be used for a Renaissance tapestry carpet of spring bloomers.
Hybrids of the early and late varieties. Mid height, Mid season bloom, and strong stems.
Sometimes called “peony tulips” with very full petals. I have never much cared for these, but “Angelique” is extremely beautiful. These come in both early and late categories ( Angelique is a Late sort)
Parrot and Fringed varieties
caused by a virus to break colors and sport odd petals, many people like these. I don’t grow them, but they are the tulips that the Dutch painters often portrayed because of their interesting beauty of form and color.

Garden notes

When mixing perennials with bulbs, plant them before the bulbs if possible – or ideally with them. Less damage to the bulbs when digging in the earth

Tulip Tips
from Lauren Bonar Swezey:
*Set tulip bulbs 2 to 4 inches apart. Exception: When planting forget-me-nots, pansies, violas, or other flowers above the bulbs, plant the tulips 8 inches apart on center and the flowers 10 inches on center

* Plant at the right depth.

Remember that squirrels like to snack on your tulips- discourage them.


Tulips and Daffodils

Fall Garden Tips

Minor Bulbs

Spring Blooming Garden

Cottage Gardens

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Darwin tulips
Ivory Floradale

Ivory Floradale

There are additional categories of tulips, however, for the home gardener, these are not important. If you like a tulip, the bloomtime, color, and height is usually displayed in the bulb information.

Some specific combinations to try are the ‘Ivory Floradale’ tulips with Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells; they look lovely together and disappear together. Placing hostas in front and anemone, ‘Honorine Jobert‘, as an overplanting, results in an autumn repeat of the color scheme.

‘Red Emperor’ tulips and the sharply white and green Iberis sempervirens is a classic choice. There are many pink varieties of tulip that may be combined with the moss phlox, colored in pinks, blue, and white. If you use late flowering lily-type tulips, a surround of Scilla hispanica (English bluebells, wood hyacinths) could coincide. The sweet woodruff blooms at the same time as the wood hyacinths, and makes a groundcover under roses and other shrubs. Just ideas to spark your own combinations.

In the city, I grew a number of the specie tulips: the peppermint tulip,’T. clusiana’, was a slender, delicate beauty. I grew it in a lightly shaded area, although tulips almost always appreciate sun. In the rock garden,’T. dasystemon’ was fine: small, flat plants with yellow and white blooms. There was one called Turkestanica or something, it was small and very similar in look. The Kauffmannias and Greigii, I will have to list under my favorite tulips. These both bloom about the same time, early in the spring, and grow low.

The Greigii often have bright yellow color,sometimes with red stripes, but ‘Donna Bella’ was a softer tone of cream with cherry stripes against purplish mottled foliage. It was not long-lived for me, but very lovely, especially with the blues of small bulbs such as the chionodoxia.

Quicklist: hints and tips

lipstick of the garden

  • Planted in Autumn
  • Benefit from added bonemeal
  • Look best in clusters of ten or more
  • Water early during sprouting for larger blooms and taller stems
  • Deadhead spent flowers
  • Allow bulb foliage to grow and disappear on its own
  • Plant within groundcover areas, and around shrubs

Specie Tulips, The Botanicals

Specie Tulips, The Botanicals

Tulipa Division 15 Ideal for Naturalizing Want something different blooming in the bulb garden? Or do you just love dainty little plants? Grow some of the wild botanical bulbs, better known as specie tulips. Specie tulips are sold in the fall as bulbs, just like their...

First Ever, Garden How-To Video by Me

I am experimenting again. Making my first video with the laptop camcorder when I was out planting some of my bulbs. This is beginning level, Spring blooming bulbs 101. Covered in the video: What a tulip bulb looks like, and what to look for when buying your bulbs What...