One of the great things about Sweetheart tulips is that they hang on. Many tulips give a great show for one year and then die out. That’s because most modern tulips are bred with florists in mind, not gardeners.
With Sweetheart, you put them in the ground and, unless you build something on top of them, they pretty much keep on going. I neglected my old Sweetheart shamefully and still it bloomed on in the lee of the clump of shrubs and trees where I’d abandoned it.
That’s because Sweetheart comes from a long-lived family. I had a bunch of plain Purissimas that persisted for years without any care whatever. (Purissima, also called White Emperor, is a creamy white Fosteriana that seems to be one of the older garden varieties.)
My Purissimas would still be going if I hadn’t put a bunch of containers on top of them. (I did try digging them out, but they had multiplied, and it was hard to find all of them. I kept feeling like a killer as I found the pale green shoots when I moved containers. But what could I do? It was one of the few sunny spots.) Brent and Becky’s catalogue says they know of a patch of Purissimas that’s kept going for over 20 years. Theodore James, Jr., says his patch of Red Emperors (the closest to the wild form) is more than 10 years old.
Not all Fosterianas have this staying power, at least for me—I got some Flaming Purissimas that were fabulous for one season, then pretty much faded out. But Sweetheart keeps on faithfully, year after year. As true Sweethearts should.
It seems to me that Fosterianas are the twistiest tulips as they die, forming more complicated arabesques with their fading petals than other kinds of tulips—though I’m not an unbiased judge. With Sweetheart, the color play through translucent aging petals makes the show all the better.
Did you miss the rest of the writeup and photos of Sweetheart Tulip?
Theodore James, Tulip, (photos by Harry Haralambou), Harry N. Abrams, 2003
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs website