A couple of years back my mother-in-law gave me the best present ever – a gift voucher from a bulb supplier. In this case, Marcus Harvey’s Hillview Rare Plants.
I didn’t ordering anything specific from Marcus’s incredible catalogue (which was then in limbo anyway). I told him I wanted species tulips, and that I didn’t care which. I didn’t have enough of any to worry about doubling up.
I think that this may be their third season, and while I’ve been topping up on Sicilian sunshine, they’ve been wallowing in the gloom of the wettest spring I can remember. Today the sun is out, and the tulips look like they’re ODing on it.
Those at their best today are
Tulipa saxatilis. This is curious in a couple of ways. Firstly, its flower stem branches, and a single bulb in my clump has produced 10 flowers. It’s probably capable of more, as I don’t spoil these bulbs with perfect treatment. Secondly, it spreads by stolons, and at ground level you can see these ‘knuckles’ emerging from the soil then diving back down into it. The same happened last year, but it doesn’t seem to have led to much increase. No matter. There’s a decent number of flowers anyway.
Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’. This is a lemony coloured form of the otherwise white-based species. Come to think of it, Marcus sent me the straight species, which flowered a few weeks ago. This came from Lambley. Very lovely indeed.
Tulipa vvedenskyii. At least I think that’s what it is. The birds wreaked havoc with a few of the labels. Its colour is so outrageous that my camera goes into chromatic-meltdown, and can’t distinguish one flower from another.
Tulipa hageri ‘Splendens’. This is much darker than it looks here, as I’ve deliberately taken it with penetrating light. In actuality its a paprika-chocolate, more of a flavour than a colour!
The unappealing named Tulipa battalinii ‘Honky Tonk’. It’s only opening today, but look at all those buds! My preference is more towards the apricoty forms of this species (yet to come into bloom), but I’m not one bit fussy. You find yourself describing it as a soft lemon, but there’s something distinctly acidic or sherbety about it that prevents it from being insipid.
And finally, not from Marcus, the tall yellow hybrid named ‘Big Smile’. By its nature, and its very name, it makes you do just that.