Gardening: Tough tulips which will return year after year

Tulipa tarda.
Tulipa tarda.

It’s a story of diminishing returns with big, showy tulips – magnificent first year, the display getting steadily worse with each passing season.

As I have a heavy clay soil, I grow tulips in pots, treating them like annuals, growing in multi-purpose compost mixed with loam, as they hate cold, wet soil in winter.

Tulipa Little Beauty mixed with Anenome nemorosa Robsoniana.

Tulipa Little Beauty mixed with Anenome nemorosa Robsoniana.

There is another way – beat having to replace tulips by growing their smaller species varieties, hailing from mountainous regions in Central Asia.

They’re extremely tough and can be left in the ground where they will come back year after year, forming good-sized clumps.

All they need is a sunny spot with reasonably fertile, free-draining soil. Plant November-December, 10-15cm deep and 10-15cm apart.

Remove the flowers after they have faded and apply a balanced liquid fertiliser for a month before they die down.

Tulipa Lilac Wonder.

Tulipa Lilac Wonder.

I have Tulipa Little Beauty in the garden, with upright bowl-shaped flowers.

The hot pink petals often have a green flush on their outer edges, while the inside eye is a mix of creamy white and rich blue, which stands 15cm tall.

Tulipa saxatilis Lilac Wonder has bowl-shaped mauve-pink flowers, with a paler interior and a luminous, well-defined eye. Ideally suited to pots or windowboxes, and this one is 25cm tall.

Tulipa tarda has shiny, lance-shaped green leaves which form loose clumps, which in early to mid-spring are crowned with white-tipped yellow flowers, often with a reverse that is flushed with red and green, 15cm tall.


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Harvest and store apples, wrapping them in newspaper for storage.

Cleaning the greenhouse/conservatory/porch is best done before bringing in all your tender plants for the winter. Pests and diseases can hide in tiny nooks and crannies, only to come back to life the following spring or during a mild spell. Hose down with a forceful jet of water, and then use a safe cleaning products such as Citrox, and a non-abrasive scourer specifically recommended for cleaning glass.

Continue picking sweetcorn, beans and marrows.

Prune out fruited blackberry stems and tie in new ones.

Save seeds from favourite bean varieties to plant next spring.

Lift and store onions and maincrop potatoes.

Sow turnips for spring greens in March and April.

Clear crops once they’ve finished and fork over beds. Cover with spiny branches to deter cats.

Blanch endive by covering with a bucket or large plate to cut out light.

Sow sweet peas in a cold greenhouse for early summer blooms next year.

Plant new strawberry beds with runners.

Cut down the ferny shoots of asparagus to soil level.