Just the right shade of red, Your Majesty?

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’ surrounded by day lily foliage

As the much anticipated tulips open up in our gardens, it’s a joyous moment, but also a curious one, as we see just how much the promised shade in the bulb catalogues or online suppliers matches the reality of what we see with our own eyes. I have found myself delighted with some of the new tulips I planted, and disappointed in others, which didn’t really seem to be the colour described or photographed in gardening books.

Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

My favourite tulips to emerge this spring have been a very old Dutch variety, Dillenburg. Now I would describe these as a sumptuous and complex blend of sunset orange at the tips, fading almost imperceptibly to a soft pinky peach – a really ripe, delicious peach that is, one you bite into on a sweltering day in high summer, and your mouth is flooded with flavour, and the juices drool down your chin. However, my dear OH didn’t quite describe it in those terms. “What’s the red flower that you planted over there?”, he asked. Errrrr….

Tulipa ‘Aladdin’

Perhaps he meant the Aladdin tulips I have growing in pots against a cypress hedge. These catch the light very nicely in the morning, and have the fluted, elegant shape and long stems of Lily-flowered group tulips. The pointed tips of the petals are yellow, and the remainder is orangey-red.

The colour confusion called to mind a story I was told where a misunderstanding over colour led to royal displeasure. Sources must be protected but let’s just say during a cost-cutting exercise many years back, a clever British civil servant identified a significant savings opportunity by changing supplier for the flowers planted in beds very near to our most famous palace. These flowers were chosen to match to perfection the uniforms of our monarch’s guards, just the right shade of red. Unfortunately, the new flowers turned out to be quite a different shade: most definitely not ‘Royal Guard Red’. We were not pleased. It was communicated from on high that this had been noticed, and the whole lot had to be ripped out.

Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ with Tulipa ‘Dillenburg’

I won’t be ripping out my Abu Hassan tulips, belonging to the Triumph group, even though I have to say they are not quite the sultry shade of deep red contrasted with golden yellow margins that I had expected, and seen in a nicely photographed gardening book, The Pottery Gardener.

Tulipa ‘Abu Hassan’

There are more tulips still to emerge, so no doubt more surprises await me. Have you ever been surprised by a plant that looked quite different to what you were expecting?

Awaiting the flowering of Tulipa ‘Dream Touch’