Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The comeback kid

If you garden in Colorado, you might be thinking, "What's this about?  A tulip that doesn't come back spring after spring?"

Here in the southern U.S., it's cause for celebration when what I call a regular Dutch tulip hybrid blooms several years in succession (two years back to back is pretty extraordinary).  I remember my mother-in-law once sent me some 'Angelique' peony-flowering tulips.  I planted them in the fall, and the next spring they were magnificent.  

The next year she asked me about the tulips.  I'd forgotten I was supposed to have them; they were nowhere to be found.  I can't remember if I told her the truth.  I hope I did.  She was this beautiful woman, tall and glamorous, who scared me to death, so it's possible that I could have fudged a little. 

Every few years, a yellow and red striped tulip I planted some 35 years ago comes up and blooms.  There's no explanation for this, except maybe we had ample cold weather in the fall and winter.  It's been a couple of years now since I've seen it, but who knows?

I do have some white lily-flowering tulips a friend salvaged from an apartment complex where the landscapers were digging the bulbs and throwing them away.  They make a valiant appearance every year, but as soon as I see them, the deer do, too.  They snap the heads off all at once.  It's discouraging.

About five years ago, I bought a pot of species-type, 'Lady Jane' clusiana tulips from nurseryman Scott McMahan at his booth at the Southeastern Flower Show.  The pinkish-red and white flowers have come up and bloomed every year since.  After doing a bit of research, I see that this is touted as a perennial tulip for the South and is listed in the Southern Living Plant Collection.  

So far, the squirrels and chipmunks (notorious bulb diggers) haven't bothered this tulip. And, I think the fact that on June 18, a huge oak tree fell on the place the bulbs are planted won't make a difference.  The only thing I have to worry about is getting a deer fence in place before next spring.  That's my big goal now.

Tulipa clusiana 'Lady Jane'; native from Iran east to the Himalayas; 10-12 inches high; sun to part shade; plant in well-drained soil.  Plant out of the line of fire of a sprinkler system, especially in summer; allow the foliage to yellow and mature as you would for a daffodil.