Plant Collector: Tulipa saxatilis

Plant Collector: Tulipa saxatilis

Plant Collector: Tulipa saxatilis

I am not a great fan of the common tulip and even less so of the novelty forms so prized in colder, northern European gardens. But get back to the original species, (how they occur naturally in the wild) and it is a different matter altogether. This very pretty tulip is a combination of soft lilac with a yellow throat which is not the world’s most obvious colour scheme but generally the colours of nature do not clash. It hails from the island of Crete (the home of Zorba the Greek) though apparently it is also found in Turkey. In their natural environment, these are wild flowers and if you have ever visited the Greek islands or the coast of Turkey, you will know that conditions are hard with poor stony or clay soils, very low fertility, drying winds and next to no rain for most of the year. These are not conditions that we can replicate in the garden here but Tulipa saxatilis is not too picky and has thrived in our rockery for many years. With open conditions and excellent drainage, it is genetically programmed to be a survivor.

This is an early spring bulb, so it starts to grow in winter (triggered by autumn rains) and flowers in early spring for a period of several weeks. Each bulb puts up a stem which flowers its way down in succession so you get several blooms per bulb. It is a good example of a bulb which will find the depth it is happiest at in the soil so it will often drag itself down quite deep and it is a rarity amongst the tulips because it runs below ground. Because the foliage doesn’t hang on very long, it lends itself to being co-planted with a summer perennial which is dormant when the tulip flowers. We have had a dwarf species oenothera, better known as Evening Primrose, interplanted with our main bed of Tulipa saxatilis for many years and it comes into its own as the tulip goes dormant.

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