Tulip season prompts memories of Amsterdam
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You don’t need a garden the size of Amsterdam’s famous Keukenhof to show off your tulips, as columnist Deborah McMorran explains...
A couple of years ago, you may remember that I was lucky enough to visit Amsterdam for the annual Tulip Tour. The Dutch tourist board were keen to show off all that Holland had to offer the tulip lover, and so a group of garden and tourism journalists journeyed together to visit the bulb fields, and the world-renowned Keukenhof Gardens.
I have always liked tulips, but I think my visit to Holland changed my view of them entirely. Before my visit I had always enjoyed them for the bright display they provide at this time of year, but my main experience of them had been to buy as many as I could of the lovely bright reds and yellows to ensure that the flower beds were teeming with them by Easter time. I hadn’t been familiar with the incredible selection of beautiful variegated varieties, much less the far subtler darker coloured and dwarf varieties available.
At Keukenhof, where you can turn around 360 degrees and see virtually every different possible type, colour, and style of tulip, it was very easy to see just what I had been missing out on. The way in which the gardeners there use the tulips (and other spring flowers) in order to paint pictures with the landscape, shows just how much you can do when using flowers as your colour palette.
During our visit, we were also shown some tulip-inspired artwork and many beautiful displays of arranged tulips, which further highlighted the special place that this flower still holds in the hearts and history of the Dutch people. Clearly they had not been so blind to the huge selection of diversity that such a humble plant had to offer - and pictures painted hundreds of years ago depicted the delicate feathered stripes of the parrot tulips, or the feminine curve of a flower with petals such a dark black that they seem to shine like a horse’s glistening flanks at gallop.
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It doesn’t take long being surrounded by all of this beauty before you start to understand how tulip mania took hold in the mid 1630s - where it was known for just one bulb to sell for up to 10 times the salary of a skilled worker. It seems hard to believe now that plants could have been so important and valuable, especially when it is possible to now buy the simple varieties in supermarkets, and budget stores for next to nothing.
Looking at a garden the size of Keukenhof, it would be easy to get awestruck and find it impossible to imagine the use of tulips in your own garden to the same effect. If you haven’t visited Holland to see the tulips, you can look on the internet and find lots of pictures of all of the different parts of the park. The same as with any large landscaped garden, there are always ways to take small sections of it, and recreating them in your own garden. Even if you only have a window box or balcony planter, you can choose planting combinations that you particularly like, and recreate them in pots.
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Of course tulips aren’t the only flowers which are out at the moment, and I’m still enjoying a wonderful display of daffodils in our garden at home. We’re at that fabulous time of the year when one flower is jostling with the next to grab our attention in the flower bed.
With the lighter evenings, it’s one of the simplest but nicest pleasures to be able to walk around the garden in the early evening sunlight, paying attention to the smaller plants which have been overlooked - those which are closer to the ground, and otherwise overshadowed by their more brash neighbours. The plant in my garden which is bringing me most excitement at the moment is the wisteria - it has more flower buds on it this year than ever, and I can’t wait for them to burst into blossom - but I know that I’ve got a little while longer to wait yet!
There will be a little bit longer in between columns this month - but the next column should be all about the Chelsea Flower Show - my real start to the summer in the garden!
Things to do in the garden this month:
* If you have been enjoying indoor flowers such as hyacinths, you can now plant these out in the garden. So many people just throw these away after the flower blooms have gone over in the house, but they can be enjoyed next year if you plant them out.
* Deadhead the daffodils and tulips as they go over - remember not to cut back the foliage though, as it’s important for the nutrients to go back into the bulb for the next growing season.
* If you are lucky enough to have lovely primroses in your garden, now is a good time to divide them to create more clumps for next year. With so many things in gardening, it’s like playing a long game of chess - we are constantly planning for what seems the distant future, but which will repay us several-fold when Spring comes around again.
* Make sure you are keeping an eye on any containers or pots. As the weather starts to warm up, you will need to keep an eye on these to make sure they are not too dry.