Species tulips may be smaller than hybrids, but they are also tougher - and create a stunning show year after year. There is a species tulip that will be happy in every garden - even clay! so there is no excuse not to add these lovely bulbs to your planting scheme...
Tulips are often considered ephemeral in the garden, and it's true that many hybrid tulips decline in vigour after the first year. Species tulips, however, are reliable year upon year, often naturalising and setting seed to produce drifts of flowers that actually improve over the years.
Species tulips tend to be smaller and less showy than their hybrid counterparts but they are equally heart stopping. The flowering season begins on early March just as the garden is waking up from winter, but there are varieties that bloom in succession all the way through until the end of May. From the creamy drifts to Tulipa turkestaica to be the lipstick-red of Tulipa fosteriana, it really is worth making room form these little beauties in your garden.
As a general rule, good drainage is essential for all tulips. Although they love to be watered during their growing season, most species tulips prefer dry soil over the summer months. Rock gardens have typically been the best place to grow species tulips because they emulate their natural habitat in the wild, but they are not the only situation in which these diminutive gems will flourish.
Pots and containers
Tulipa greigii starts flowering in March. The dwarf flowering habit and large decorative leaves make for stunning displays in window boxes and containers. Try combining Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood' with winter pansies and trailing ivy for a late-winter show stopper. Try also T. humilis 'Persian Pearl' and T. kauffmanniana 'Heart's Delight'
Tulipa acuminta is an usual and exotic-looking tulip with needle like pointed petals of red and yellow. It is a surpise hit in clay soil, flowering in May, and is excellent for cut-flower arrangements.
Low-growing and early-flowering, Tulipa humilis is equally happy in a rock garden, a raised bed, sunny border or a pot. It has delicate, blade-like leaves, and is available in a wide range of colours.
Tulipa turkestanica is one of the easiest species tulips to grow, and deserving of a place in almost every garden. The elegant creamy-white flowers have a rich yello centre, and really brighten up the winter garden. These tulips will spread gradually and reliably to form dense patches of small starry flowers.
Tulipa sprengeri is the exception to the rule: flowering in late May and early June, it actually prefers slightly moist soil - and even a bit of shade. try including it in woodland-edge planting schemes, or use it to underplant deciduous trees and shrubs. Don't be put off by its price: Tulipa sprengeri sets seed widely and will soon become an established accent in the garden.
With its sturdy stems, broad leaves and huge bright red flower which can be 15cm across when fully open - Tulipa fosteriana is one of the most popular species tulips. it adapts to a wide variety of soils and situation, relishes neglect and reliable each year.