Judging by my garden reading, not many people think of tulips as a foliage plant. Yet when I photograph tulips, I find myself being seduced away from even the most beautiful blooms, to the soft curves, wild twists and soft luminescence of foliage. Even the first tiny spears can be a gardener’s delight of anticipation.
Tulip foliage is out well before the blooms, before there’s much happening in most gardens; shouldn’t we welcome it for its constantly-unfolding show? It obliges us even in snow, lighting up the white with sturdy green spears
although even without the snow, the first green, green rabbit-ears poking through the old leaves are a sign of hope:
Not all tulip foliage is green, though, at least not in all its stages.
At first I was going to say I’ve only known two tulips whose foliage noses emerge ashy red: ‘Couleur Cardinal’, a scented heirloom tulip from 1845 (either a Triumph or a Single Early, depending on who’s doing the categorizing), and ‘Formosa’, a chartreuse lily-flowered tulip, fresh off the Netherlands breeding fields. Although I’m no authority, it seems unlikely that a late-blooming lily-flowered tulip would have much ancestry in common with a Triumph, beyond the bare facts of their being tulips. So I didn’t know why they both showed this characteristic. My first I thought had been that ‘Couleur Cardinal’ foliage might somehow have taken some of the color of its flowers, an embarrasingly medieval notion.
But Formosa blasted that theory (if it deserves the name of theory) by showing up like this:
(The little tongues coming out of the middle are the flower buds. If your tulips don’t show this, that means you will have no flowers this year – and that you need to split up your bulbs and/or give them a lot of phosphate and possibly calcium.)
As so often happens when you start looking for something, I noticed that the early foliage of Dreaming Maid (a Triumph tulip) had a red tinge, too, at least on some of them:
It isn’t just the new little noses poking out of the ground that are colorful. Older tulip foliage has reds and pinks, too – plus a couple of other things worth taking a look at. For those of you who haven’t had enough (I may be talking to an audience of one: myself), I’ll take a look at older foliage in the next post.