Tulips and Dutch Masters

01_Mixed_tulips_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg02_Tulipa_Columbine_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg03_Tulipa_Absalon_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg04_Tulipa_Insulinde_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg05_Tulipa_Mahogany_King_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg06_Adding_sugar_to_bottles_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg07_Tulipa_Mahogany_King_and_Tulipa_La_Joyeuse_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg08_Tulips_in_storage_boxes_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg09_Tulips_in_Landrover_Britt_Willoughby_Dyer.jpg

Tulips and Dutch Masters

Whilst Steve has been busy planting the fritillaries, iris and tulips for naturalising in the grass, I have turned my mind to the tulips I plant later, in pots and in borders close to the house. I find it really useful to trial new tulips in the kitchen garden, it gives you a chance to see their true colours and characteristics, before putting them in combinations in borders and pots. If you grow them in rows, it makes them easy to identify, and you can lift them when they die back, and store them, cleaned and dry in named net or paper bags in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, ready for planting in a new position in the late autumn.

When they are grown in rows, like a crop, I also find it easier to bring myself to cut them for the house.

Last year I grew a collection of rare 'broken' and 'breeder' tulips in the kitchen garden. They were exquisitely beautiful, marbled and feathered, subtle and curious, and I'm keen to add more historic varieties. As cut flowers, in the dark interiors at Allt-y-bela, these gem-like tulips, looked even more like the mysterious and sumptuous ones of Dutch 17th Century still life paintings. There are more details about these tulips in my article in Gardens Illustrated magazine's October issue, and Andrew Montgomery took some wonderful, painterly photographs.

As ever with gardening, plants rarely flower exactly to a timetable, and in order that we could photograph all the tulips at once, for the article, we had to 'preserve' some. The members of the The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society are adept at this, having to keep their very fine blooms in perfect condition for their show in May.  So we followed the advice very kindly given by the Society's secretary and if you ever want to save some exquisite cut tulips for a special occasion, try this:

Fill a bottle with fresh water and add half a teaspoon of sugar.  Early in the morning, take the prepared bottle to the tulip out in the garden. Make a straight cut, and put the tulip instantly into the bottle, and store it in the fridge. We had too many for the fridge, so once they were safely crated up, they made the trip in the Landrover, to the very chilly cellar at Kristy's house.

This autumn I will replant these rarities alongside my favourite Tulipa 'The Lizard' in the enclosed courtyard by the front door. It is becoming more and more like a cabinet of curiosities and precious finds, with the low clipped balls of box on legs, like velvet cushions, acting as the perfect green foil to the flowering jewels. I can't wait to see these tulips next May. We will celebrate them to the full and I'll take great pleasure again in cutting a few for the house.

To find out about their annual show, have a look at The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society website: www.thetulipsociety.com They grow the finest varieties of flamed and feathered tulips, and the ones on show are of the most amazing clarity and form.

Having flowers in the house is such an essential part of Allt-y-bela, that I thought we'd delve a bit deeper into the world of the Dutch Masters, for more inspiration. I've invited The Garden Gate Flower Company to join me in giving a floral workshop in April 2015. For more details have a look at our courses for next year.

Photographs by Britt Willoughby Dyer