Tulip Maine-ia


It’s been a long time coming, but despite a long, cool, and damp spring, tulip season has officially arrived at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. While the gray skies might make for vibrant tulip photo opportunities, unfortunately this weather also means conditions are perfect for uninvited fungal issues, leading to spotting and lesions on flowers and foliage alike. Long, rainy days notwithstanding, our tulips have persevered and their joyful, colorful blooms abound throughout the Gardens.

Last fall we planted over 40,000 tulip bulbs consisting of 73 cultivars and species, resulting in a kaleidoscope of colors and forms. Each of the different classes of tulips is represented, from simple Darwin hybrids to more elaborate parrot flowers. I am often asked what my favorite tulips are, and I’m pretty sure my answer changes each time. While every cultivar will be considered beautiful to someone, I have found a few that stand out above the others, at least until I take another stroll through the Gardens.

For those who prefer a more traditional single tulip, be sure to check out ‘The Royals’. This mix consists of bright yellow and sharply contrasting vivid purple single tulips that are spectacular when interplanted with majestic ostrich ferns. ‘Tom Pouce’, named for the traditional Dutch pastry (Yummy! But don’t eat them…), features scrumptious bicolor petals of pink and creamy-yellow. If hot, electric colors are more your style, then ‘Amazon’ will not disappoint. Its intense red-orange petals are highlighted with searing yellow “flames” that glow in the sun—your retinas may never recover!

Tulips are divided into classes based on bloom time and form. One of the most intriguing classes is the fringed tulip, and ‘Cummins’ is a fine example of this group. Each lavender-violet petal is adorned with frilly white fringes that reminds me of frost crystals on a chilly spring morning. These unusual flowers add a refined elegance to both the garden border and an indoor arrangement. There are some tulips that are grown not only for their colorful flowers, but also for their fine foliage. ‘Esperanto’ has attractive gray-green leaves decorated with a bold, white edge. This variegated foliage provides the perfect backdrop for the elegant, rosy-red flowers whose petals are embellished with feathery green streaks. Lots of drama with this one! Finally, a personal favorite is the double, early flowering ‘Exotic Emperor’. In my opinion, this tulip rules our display. Big, multi-petaled, creamy-white chalices stand tall on erect stems. Surrounding the double flowers and adding more intrigue are soft yellow sepals edged with green that complete this exquisite tulip.

For me, tulips and springtime go hand in hand. A garden in May just wouldn’t be the same without the myriad of colors and forms tulips provide. Whether you prefer traditional or unconventional forms, one cannot visit a tulip display without smiling and knowing winter is finally over.

– Andy Brand, Curator of Living Collections