Sticking Around


Last week, a woman who'd just moved to Saratoga Springs walked by my house and admired my tulips.  "How many years do they last for you?"

I shrugged.  "I treat them as annuals and replace them with short dahlias as soon as they are done blooming."

Her jaw dropped at the extravagance.  Which it is.  But somehow any extravagance involving food or plants seems entirely reasonable to me.

Nonetheless, encouraged by fellow Ranter Elizabeth Licata, I've been planting species tulips in recent years.  They are not only graceful, but some of them even have some of the punch of hybrid tulips, in that they are surprisingly colorful and tall enough to make a decent show.  Best of all, they are not disappearing into shadow world after a single explosive spring.  They are multiplying.

My tulipa tarda–the relatively common yellow and white tulip that grows in short clumps, like a particularly shapely and chic crocus–has already finished blooming.

But check out these two beauties: tulipa sylvestris.


And my favorite: tulipa whittallii.



  1. I planted one kind this year (from Brent and Becky’s), small with white tips and purple insides.

    It was tiny, but lovely and I would definitely do it again.

    That said, I agree with you: bulbs and food are not places I skimp. Oh, and toilet paper. Why be cheap on that?

  2. I love species tulips, but I’ve also had luck with some hybrid tulips (especially the ‘Triumph’ class) coming back. It was at least 10 years ago I planted some orange tulips called ‘Surprise’ in 8 inches of largely clay by my mailbox, and every year they surprise me by reappearing and clashing violently with my pink-purple magnolia. This may be the secret to perennial tulips: plant ones you don’t like. (I could dig them out, but I kind of enjoy the audacity, and they are finally about to croak, I think).

  3. I love species tulips and they are often more perennial than the hybrids – but not in every case. My lovely true clusiana tulips petered out, and so did my T. sylvestris.

    Fiona, your theory may be correct, but I too have had some luck with getting hybrids back, too, but I suspect the reason yours may be coming back is partly due to heritage and partly due to the fact that they don’t get water in summer – tulips hate that.

    I keep working on various ways of getting my tulips to perennialize, but I’m in full agreement with you on the splurge factor: I’m in the middle of a gorgeous spring display, and I’m glad I didn’t count the cost, though some may think it silly.

  4. Michele, the orphanidea flava have just come up for me. They are amazingly like the whittallii. I love the gray/orange petals–almost like marquetry.

  5. I have grown species Tulips for almost 30 years… Probably a 1000 Tardas bloomed in my front yard this year…

    I have about 12 species…some types don’t spread well (but keep coming back!). I also have nice little stands of English Bluebells and Wild Hyacinth, both European wildflowers. All mix well with Virginian Bluebells, Wild Geraniums, Waterleaf, etc…

  6. Amen to extravagance in the garden and on table ! It is no extravagance at all to feed your senses well.

  7. Regular old tulips are a waste of money as most are annuals and deer food at best. Species tuilps are outstanding especially tardiva.
    Before deer ruined tulips in New York I had in excess of 375 varities for sale each fall.

    The TROLL

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