Order tulip bulbs early

Tiffany Daneff / 26 August 2016

With summer in full swing it's time to get in early and order the most popular tulip bulbs before they sell out.



Standing outside the back door this afternoon it feels almost Costa hot. The second flush of roses are drooping their delicate heads, the purple perovskia is wantonly splayed across the yellowing lawn and you can smell the heat rising from the stone doorstep.

It smells like the beginning of the end of summer. Beyond the garden the fields have changed character. The stands of thistles and nettles have been mown which is good news for the dog who has suffered weeks of sore paws.

Until a month ago every field was dotted with sheep. Now the landscape is back to green though gradually, one field at a time, the new ewes arrive. They are easy to spot. At night they lie spread across a whole field, not yet behaving like a flock. By day they wander along the sandy banks with the non-committal expression of window shoppers, not yet sure of the lie of the land. I am pretty sure that the reason the farmer cleared the duck weed from the stream was because the incoming ewes, not realizing it was water, would fall in.

Sheep field in summer

But I digress. With September upon us it is time to think about ordering bulbs to plant this autumn. And, if you don’t want to end up buying from the tiny selection available in most supermarkets and garden centres you need to put your bulb orders in now. And I mean now. Leave it a few weeks and all the best varieties will have vanished. To give you just the idea both Ballerina and White Triumphator tulips sell out fast. I know because I missed the boat last year and could find none at all. This year I am feeling fantastically smug because I put my order in this week and got everything I was after.

Out of curiousity I have taken a straw poll of what gardening friends are ordering and whether they have any particular tips to pass on. So here, in no particular order are my findings:

Garden writer and blogger Stephanie Donaldson

“I always grow Ballerina and General de Wet in my courtyard where their fragrance fills the air on warm days - I add a few Jan Reus and Havran as a deeper colour and China Pink for oomph.

"My containers start with Exotic Emperor followed by Barcelona. In the borders I add more viridiflora Spring Green and China Town each year and plant sylvestris under the trees for the earliest flowers, followed by naturalised Ballerina which I plant out each year once they have flowered in pots.”

Garden designer Angel Collins

“I first planted Tulip Menton about ten years ago and this year I planted it again. And I am so glad I did. It is so tall, so strong and so long-flowering. I planted it with Tulip sorbet this year. It's a slightly dodgy pastelly pink but it's a winner.

"I planted lots of Tulip Belle Époque last year and they flowered for a very long time - an incredibly beautiful antiquey apricot. If you want a very tall white tulip Francoise is amazing. It grows to about 800mm. But at the end of the day there is nothing quite like T. Queen of the Night.”

Saga garden expert Val Bourne

Val Bourne is planting the deep bruised purple black Paul Scherer which she reckons an excellent alternative to Queen of the Night. She is also ordering T. Exotic Emperor and Pink Diamond. Her impressively large list also includes T. Eye Catcher a fiery orangey red viridiflora with a pronounced green flame at the base of the petals.

A very useful tip from Val: She is planting the Dutch Crocus vernus ‘Vanguard’ which comes up earlier than most Dutch bulbs but being a larger bulb is less appealing to voles. I planted 300 bulbs of the early small C . Buff Beauty three years ago and this year only three came up. Thank you voles.

Find out how to naturalise bulbs

Horatio's Garden

Horatio’s Garden, Glasgow

Great news from our resident garden expert James Alexander-Sinclair who has been working for months with the charity Horatio’s Garden to create a wonderful garden for patients at the Scottish National Spinal Unit, Glasgow. The plants are going in, with help from a team of dedicated volunteers, and the garden is set to formally open on September 1. To find out more about the design watch James’s video here.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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