Gardening with Galligan: Tulips in all shapes, sizes and colors

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | Colorful tulips rest in vases on my deck.

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | Colorful tulips rest in vases on my deck.

When I told you last week that tulip nomenclature was really so simple? That was not quite true, but I didn’t want to discourage you, and anyway, it’s only slightly more complicated.

Let’s begin with the earliest tulips, the “species tulips.” These are short, often don’t look much like tulips and are better suited to the rock garden. Actually many of them are rather strange looking. But if they’re your thing …

Now let’s go in order. Early tulips, the ones that look exactly like tulips, with a cup shape and long stems, open fully on sunny days and then close again at night. They’re available in every color there is except blue and come in both single and double forms. When it comes to tulips, I’d advise against any and all of “the doubles.” The singles can stand up to some of those heavy spring downpours but the doubles often end up getting smashed.

Triumph tulips (don’t panic, newcomers) are a cross between early tulips and the Darwins and slightly taller. Where the Earlies are usually 12 to 14 inches tall, the Triumphs go from 16 to 20 inches but rarely more. There’s a relatively new Triumph called Synaeda Blue that is spectacular. Despite its name, it isn’t blue, but lilac-rose with a purple sheen and bright white edges to the petals. Check it out online and if you like it, write it down in your garden book so that when the fall catalogs come, you’ll remember its name.

The Darwins, really mid-season tulips, come next. They are taller, larger and the closest thing there is to a perennial tulip. They will come back for almost five years, but you will have to do the green-to-brown number. Although if you have space, for example a row in a vegetable garden, you might consider, if you want them, “heeling them in” — digging up the whole clump and planting them to ripen elsewhere. Just make sure you’ve marked them well so you can find them when you want to put them back. I had Jap Groot, in wonderful variegated shades of yellow, on my balcony this year and it was lovely.

Single late tulips are among the last to flower and have the most diverse color range. They range from 24 to 30 inches in height. If you plant Maureen, Menton and Renown mixed together, you’ll have a wonderful combination of rose, pink and white. They should bloom when the azaleas do and won’t clash but will blend nicely.

Now for some of the odder types, not classified by bloom time but usually by appearance. These are the Lily Flowering, the Fringed, the Green (or Viridiflora), the Multi-Flowering or Bouquet tulips and finally, the Parrots. The last are named for their exotic, showy, fringed and scalloped shapes and often bright shades, although some are quite subdued and lovely; check out White Parrot, white with nice green markings — very good looking and one of the better choices for forcing. The Bouquet tulips have from three to five full-size flowers per stem and a few of them go a long way. Some are more expensive but many are good buys.

The Greens are exactly what their name suggests. They’re feathered green, are quite late flowering and eye-catching. Spring Green is my favorite — I always have at least 20 or 30, since they’re great for cutting, mixing well in any vase. And the Fringed are … well, fringed. They range in height from 16 to 24 or 26 inches and have a fair range of colors. I happen to like them but if you want to go that way, I think they should have their own space; they do look a little different.

Next week, a little tulip history and then on to azaleas.