Are tulips annual bedding?

or a response to Dan

I read Dan Pearson's column in the Observer routinely.  It is fair to say that I enjoy his writing very much.  I own a couple of his books too and I like their gentle but confident style.  So as usual one of my first things to do on a Sunday is to look to see what he has written this week, and this week it was about tulips.  In particular, looking to find tulips that will regrow every year rather than growing them as bedding plants.
Now this may be where my experience/gardening routine differs from other peoples.  I am not a trained gardener, I am an obsessive hobbyist.  I do read a lot of gardening magazines/articles and have been known to watch the odd TV gardening programme too.  I have seen before advice about how to plant tulips, often suggesting they are planted in baskets so they can be lifted easily because they are not reliable and should be seen as annual bedding.
Confession time:  I have never lifted a tulip in my life.  I have no time for such jobs.  I do grow dahlias so I am used to lifting them each Autumn, it is not that I am opposed in principle to such an act, but in my experience tulips usually flower again.  Sometimes they have a bit of a weak second year, but then they usually come back ok; or not, but I would not say as Dan does that they 'rarely' come back.  Anyway, if they do not come back I do not really notice (sorry).  Maybe its because I am still creating borders and still planting up new areas each year, but in general I plant some more tulips every year and every year I have more in total.  Even better, as mentioned in another tulip-related post, I am now growing more species tulips that bring the added joy of potential self-seeding.
Obviously my experience and needs as a hobbyist are totally different from a top flight designer, I know this.  For a start, I am not being paid by a client to provide a certain thing that will be expected to be there year on year and that does alter completely what I expect and do.  I can take a laissez-faire attitude as to whether they return or not, I have that luxury.  I am also not arguing for one moment with Dan's knowledge, I am not that arrogant, he must know more about these things than I could ever dream to, I know my place.  I do not though, regard tulips are bedding plants, that seems rather extravagant.


  1. Hi Alison,

    I've only just this past Autumn planted Tulips actually in my borders - previously they've always been in pots. I do however have species bulbs - Turkestanica and other randoms free in bulb collections. And the species do definitely come back. Those in pots also come back, but often after a few years die away so they do seem to need replacing eventually.
    There's a lovely show of black and white in Sheffield City centre that has been there for years - obviously I don't know if they replace them every year though. I don't believe they do!

    As far as I'm led to believe as long as they're baked through summer then they should come back - so mine are in hot borders where they will be baked.

  2. Ahh, Dan. Small crush there. He apparantly gardened my great aunt's garden when he was a lad - can you believe it?!! Only found out when he wrote about her! Blimey.

    Back to tulips. I have grown them for a few years and as a hopelessly lazy gardener and one with zilcho storage space, I have left them in the ground. Some seem to do better than others. Queen of the night seems a real trouper, still as glorious in year 3. Ballerina varieties have done well, not so sure about peony types but we had that drought in march which I think really affected some - always difficult to pull apart different factors. Thing is, and I have found this with dahlia tubers, unless you have optimal storage areas they are likely to rot or get eaten by mice or freeze and after all the palaver of digging them up, I'm just not up for the faff. See, lazy! I do as you do, leave in the ground and buy more each year as a back up. The rain has damaged mine quite badly this April, again ballerinas and Q of the N have been brilliant for not developing rain spots. Bx

  3. I have White Purissima in my garden which comes back fairly reliably. LIke you, I have never lifted a tulip in my life - but I have accidentally dug them up or put a spade through them! I've had Queen of the NIght in the past, which is really reliable, as Belinda says. But my garden is quite shady in spring, so I prefer the white tulips as they stand out more.

  4. There seems to have been a rash of articles in magazines, visiting gardens where tulips are treated as annuals. As you say, it seems rather extravagant and hard work to me. I, too, have never lifted a tulip. I suppose that if you rely on tulips to make a statement each spring and change the colour scheme each year it makes sense to dig them up, but otherwise, why not just add a few extra each year to make up for small losses?

    I've had tulips come up reliably in my borders for the past 5 years, and these are borders stuffed with herbaceous plants, in NW England, so they don't get a baking. As Belinda says, peony types seem less reliable - Carnaval de Nice only came up for 3 years - which reminds me, I must remember to buy some more this year.

  5. Thanks for your comments. It currently feels a bit split between those who garden for the public/others and private gardens - not totally, but that is sort of the sides of the question. Glad to see I am not alone in never lifting them. I shall keep an eye on my Carnival de Nice - this is their first year for me.

  6. I have been leaving tulips in the ground for a couple of years now. I have noticed that they generally come back OK but there is one bed this year which had tulips planted in it 3 years ago (2nd yr tulips from pots) and the tulips have failed this year. I suspect this is because they had tulip fire the year before last. I removed lots of them but I think the virus has got the rest.

    Anyway, its good that some of the tulips dont come up as then we have an excuse to buy more the next year.

    I think treating tulips as bedding is ridiculous and the preserve of those who have money to burn!!


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