Variety is the spice of life as tulips take centre stage
April is the month when tulips come into flower in dramatic fashion. They are a bit late this year due to a chilly spring but after a few good sunny days they will get back on track. The flowers are relatively large and carried beautifully at the top of slender, but sturdy, stems where they can be seen easily. On a sunny day, the flowers open out like a saucer.
Tulips have been grown for many centuries in their native territory in south-eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. As trade increased, tulips were brought to Europe, especially to Holland where there was even a price boom and crash, known as 'Tulipmania' in the early 17th Century, during which single rare tulip bulbs sold for 10 times a craftsman's annual salary.
There are lots of kinds of tulips, raised from different wild species, and they are classified according to their flower shape. Most are cup-shaped, some described as goblet-shape, being deeper. Some of the cup-shapes are double-flowered with extra petals. There are lily-flowered kinds with tall pointed petals and parrot tulips with twisted and split petals reminiscent of parrot feathers. Darwin tulips have almost round cup flowers. There are early and late-flowering kinds. There are varieties that flower from mid-March to mid-May, but they mostly follow the daffodils in flower.
Tulips have a wide range of colours - red, orange, yellow, white, purple, dark maroon, and pink, but not blue. Some favourites include: 'Apeldoorn', a bright red Darwin type; 'West Point', tall yellow lily-flowered; 'China Pink', lily-flowered; 'Queen of Night', single dark maroon late-flowering; 'Angelique', double late-flowering with apple-blossom pale pink, yellow and green petals.
Tulips tend not to be as persistent in the ground as daffodils because the soil and the summers are generally too damp. If the bulbs are planted into well-drained soil, or a good amount of coarse sand is worked into the soil to improve drainage, they can last for decades.
But normally the original bulbs divide into small daughter bulbs and prove to be too small to flower. Competition from larger plants, such as shrubs, is often a problem too. In general, most tulips are grown as summer bedding or container plants, and are discarded or planted out in the garden afterwards. In borders, because they struggle with vigorous plants, they are best grown in groups that can be given enough space. It is best to plant some new tulip bulbs each autumn, and enjoy their elegant beauty in spring.
We have no soil for a lawn
Q: We have only shale and builders' rubble in our back garden but want to lay a lawn. Would we need topsoil if we want to use turf/sod which already has about 2.5cm of soil backing?
S Cullen, Co Laois
A: Grass lawn needs at least 15cm, ideally 30cm, of good topsoil. If you cannot lay that without raising the lawn level too much, you will have to take out the rubble and then lay topsoil. Although this is onerous, it will give the best result in the end. If the soil layer is too shallow, even at 15cm, the grass shrivels up in a dry summer spell.
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