Do you need Tulips?

By Paula Baxter Mill Pond Flower Farm

Do I need tulips? Hmm, let me think about that one…

spring tulips.jpg

Last Spring, (or arctic freeze as it was in reality) our tulip blooming was mixed in its success. We have half the crop in the polytunnels and the other bulbs outside in the field. The early bulbs were through in good time, came to a halt when the temperatures dropped well below freezing for a couple of weeks and then flowered as expected, although they were a month late. The mid-season varieties started to emerge in the middle of the extreme weather, developed flower buds, waited and waited, then bloomed poorly with the flowers spotted and damaged. At first, I was concerned it was tulip fire, but on consulting other growers and tulip experts, the conclusion appeared to be that the weather and swings in temperature had caused the damage. However, the flowers were poor quality, unsaleable and ended up burned just in case. So, on to the late season bulbs. By the time they bloomed the weather had dramatically improved and they shot through, flowering with gusto, although over a shorter period of time. We sold all the tulips that were good quality but it was a stressful time. We had our first tulip on 30 March and the last ones were cut on 15 May and sent to RHS Chelsea for the Flowers from the Farm stand. 

At Mill Pond Flower Farm our main customers are wedding and event florists. They need particular colours and shapes for specific dates. Tulips are a lovely flower to have, but it’s very hard to predict when they’ll flower so whether they’ll be available for their orders. They’re also very readily available through wholesalers, although they’re not quite the same as locally grown. We allow the blooms to grow to their full size and they’re fully coloured when delivered. We do sell some local flowers but very limited numbers, although we always have brides ordering buckets of mixed blooms to arrange themselves in the spring. 

When it came to bulb ordering time, for the first time ever I really hesitated over spending hundreds of pounds on tulips. I consulted the oracle that is the Flowers from the Farm forum and asked what other growers thought about growing tulips. The response was thoughtful but mixed, between growers who don’t grow them (too expensive, not a good return) to those who couldn’t imagine spring without them. I decided not to go for tulips this year and I bought a whole load of hellebores instead.

Fast forward to last week. 

While planning for next season, we’ve decided to offer limited numbers of flower subscriptions for local flower lovers, a pre-ordered bucket of loose blooms and foliage or an arranged bouquet delivered once a week or fortnight. These will be offered for April and May so we’ll need additional blooms and good variety for buckets and bouquets. Tulips would be good.

And the horror that is Brexit is approaching. It will happen in the Spring and even optimistic predictions are for delays at ports, with imports held up. This might not be so bad for dry goods and electronic items, but for perishable flowers it’s a disaster, and more so for the florist who’s ordered flowers for a wedding in a few days’ time and needs beautiful blooms for the bridal bouquet. The options may be very limited for spring weddings and it would be good to have tulips on our list.

Out came the catalogues and the order is now in, hundreds of bulbs are on their way. We just have to plant them – oh, I may not have mentioned that bulb planting is my least favourite job - roll on the spring and lots and lots of tulips!