Gaskell House Blogs

National Gardening Week – The Tulip

11th April 2017
in blog

Gardens do not run to a time-table. You cannot be certain that a particular flower will be at its best on the day you choose. The plant chooses. So I am a little apprehensive as I write about the tulips in the garden. By the time you read this, some of the tulips may have passed their best. Others may not yet be in flower. The photos will have to bear witness to the fact that the tulip written about were worth seeing or would be worth seeing.

I will start with Tulipa sylvestris which is planted in a large group in the bed in the front garden to the left of the house.  The tulip seems happy here.  This is its third year of flowering. The bed gets sunshine in the morning and during the day and the part of the bed in which it is planted is not under the rain shade of the tree. The hope is that it will seed and establish a good sized colony. Tulipa sylvestris  (wild tulip) is not a British native wild flower but comes from Asia Minor, West Africa and Europe but was introduced to Britain in the late 18th century.

I thought that I was being too hopeful in thinking the next tulip would be in flower when you read this. Photos I took in previous years all show Tulip Couleur Cardinal flowering in May. But it has surprised me by starting to flower now in early April.

It’s now also in its third year and maybe it will not reach the splendour of its first year of flowering. It has a rich velvety red colour. Very Cardinal Wolsey. This year the tulip is coming up variegated. It has chosen to be different! But still attractive. The change is probably due to a virus and I can foresee much discussion in the group of gardeners as to whether we should remove the bulbs after they have flowered. The Royal Horticultural Society advice is to destroy the bulbs.

It was planted deeply so it wouldn’t work its way up to the surface and could stay in site for more than a year. It dates from 1845 so may well have been known to Mrs Gaskell, whether in this garden or earlier gardens. She liked rich colours so would have appreciated this tulip.

Being planted deeply, Couleur Cardinal escaped the fate of the third tulip  Tulip Joost Van Den Vondel. This ones dates from 1850, the year the Gaskell’s moved into the house. Duc Van Thol, possibly Max Cramoisie was planted last year in pots on the steps that are no longer used, but led up to the dining room. It’s a sunny, warm spot and in the summer the pots are planted with 19th century varieties of pelargoniums.

When I first planted the tulip bulbs, I hadn’t taken into account the local squirrel. He may look charming as he scampers across the lawn and along the wall and I can tolerate any oak seedlings that may sprout in the fern bed as a sensible squirrel precaution against food shortage; but the squirrel is a pest when it comes to planted bulbs. Crocus bulbs are clearly tasty to a squirrel and so are tulips. He fails to appreciate that some of these bulbs are priced per bulb rather than by the dozen! Last year’s display was a failure. This year I covered every pot with chicken wire and then, when the shoots showed, with an inverted hanging basket frame. It seems to have foiled the squirrel’s bulb-scrumping and we have tulips in flower. I read recently that dried holly sprigs stuck vertically into pots can also provide a deterrent. I think I’ll try that next year.

Duc Van Thol tulips are one of the earliest cultivated tulips in the Netherlands, dating from the early 1600’s. The earliest ones are the shortest and don’t seem to get as leggy as other varieties. So they are a good candidate for planting in pots.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s excursion into tulips. Tomorrow I plan to write about camellias.

Don’t forget you can meet the gardeners Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on Wed 12 April, 11-3pm and we have a small plant sale. Entry to garden and plant sale is free and usual admission to the house applies.

The gardening volunteers work in the garden most Wednesday mornings and would welcome any visitor interrupting their work to talk about the garden.

Chris Tucker
Volunteer Gardener

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