Why do I have so much trouble with my tulips? I don't expect picture-postcard colour waves, I don't even require amazing, vibrant hues. I don't need them to stay in straight lines, or flower bravely for weeks on end...
Honestly, I'm not asking for much. And I'm certainly not trying to emulate the mass tulip displays I've seen in famous Botanic Gardens. I'm not grumbling, but I do have just a few simple requirements.
Firstly, I'd like a tiny bit of longevity. I do want blooms that do the business for longer than one day. As an avid spring photographer I'd like fair warning that the petals are going to come apart. Flower pictures do tend to look better when everything's in place.
A bit of wind-resistance wouldn't go astray, either. Why should a windy gardener be denied the joys of tulip mania? New Zealand is an island, so it gets wind, but good gardeners (like me) always provide fairly decent shelter...
Solo Red Tulip
But most of all, I want a little collective thoughtfulness and consistency. I want my tulips to demonstrate a strong group dynamic.
I need my tulips to be good team players - groups of eleven who are still eleven-strong in five years time. Alas, my garden borders are littered with lone red survivors, whose original regiments have sadly disappeared into the sandy soil. There's nothing more distracting than one red tulip, all on its own...
And how about some good growth... I once read that species tulips were tougher and stronger - great! So I planted a dozen with cute striped leaves, and they started by flowering brilliantly. The flowers were low to the ground - perfect for the problems of wind!
This spring I've spotted three survivors, leaves nestled into the forget-me-nots, and not a tulip flower stalk in sight. Now that's a seventy five percent attrition rate...
OK, I know I could plant my bulbs in mesh buckets, lift and store them over winter, powder-pat them dry, label them, hang them upside down in a draft-free shed, and then pop them into the fridge... Or I could just plant brand new stocks every year, leaving the intricacies of serious tulip-culture to the magician-gardeners who farm and sell the bulbs.
My style of gardening obviously relegates tulips into being one-spring wonders, so I should just treat them as annuals. This does have some rather nice consequences - each year there'll be new tulip colours to enjoy. The perfect solution! Hee hee...
Let me see - I've gone through white peony-style tulips (2000), tall bright orange ones (2001), pale lemon (2002), bright pink (2003)... Then there's a gap, signifying my years of tulip-disenchantment. But in 2007 I'm back with 2007's frilly baby-pink sensations. 2008 has been a more sombre, serious deep mauve year. This is brilliant - I'm bound to have a new favourite colour by the time 2009 comes around.