Species tulips may be smaller than hybrid tulips, but they are also tougher - and create a stunning show year after year. In a recent article for The Times I wanted to show that 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, whilst others seem to keep going indefinitely... Species tulips, however, are reliable year upon year, often naturalising and setting seed to produce drifts of flowers that actually improve over the years...
...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.
Species tulips for 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. I also like T. humilis 'Persian Pearl' and T. kauffmanniana 'Heart's Delight'.
Tulipa clusiana 'Lady Jane' is an april flowering tulip I can only get to grow in a pot but I have seen them growing in garden borders in combination with silver leaved shrubs and perennials, thymes and lavenders - which looks brilliant
Species tulips for Clay soil
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.
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 yellow centre, and really brighten up the winter garden.
These tulips will spread gradually and reliably to form dense patches of small starry flowers.
Species tulips for Woodland edge/semi-shade
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.
I'd be interested to know your favourite varieties and planting combination, as well as the bulbs which seem to break the rules in your garden!