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Tulip fever: Follow Monty Don’s tips, and your tulips will shine year after year

Just as it used to be a sign of age to think that policemen were getting younger and younger, now I’ve noted that tulips appear in my garden earlier and earlier. The first this year was ‘Apricot Beauty’, which started to flower fully three weeks ago. 

This variety was chosen specifically to bloom at the same time as the forget-me-nots so that the pinky, apricot flowers rise up through a blue mist – and usually this works a treat. But this year, the forget-me-nots are slow off the mark and have been beaten to it by the tulips. 

Tulips flowering in March is a new development for us at Longmeadow, but April is certainly tulip time wherever you are, and this Easter will be ablaze with them. 

Monty Don has shared his advice on caring for tulips so that they flower season after season, as they cannot be relied upon to come back on their own

The great thing about tulips is that they fill the garden with real colour for the first time since the previous October. Spring in March and early April is a glorious process of greens and yellows, with touches of glory from hyacinths, scillas, muscari and, above all, the early irises. 

But none of these can produce the range and volume of colour that tulips do. 

ASK MONTY 

Q We grow leeks, but most of them end up with a solid stalk through them. Why is this? 

Elizabeth Ashley, Worksop

These have bolted, or gone to seed, which all leeks will do in their second season. It also happens if they are especially dry or hot. Early varieties like ‘Pandora’ and ‘Carlton’ are more prone to bolting. Water them well and plant out when quite small, spaced at least 23cm apart. Perhaps try a late variety like ‘Blauwgroene’ or ‘Blue Solaise.’

Q Is it true you should not grow anything near fig trees? Crops do not do well under ours. 

Mr Badcock, Staines

Figs need a lot of water and will make the area around their roots very dry. They also cast a heavy shade when in leaf. Both these things mean many plants will struggle to compete. Figs also release chemicals that inhibit other plants such as walnuts, laurel, elder and sumac.

Q Moss is a problem on my concrete paths, patio and driveway. I’ve tried moss-killer spray but to no effect. Can you recommend something more effective? 

Eddie Marsh, Newbury 

A Moss thrives on hard, poorly drained surfaces in damp shade. You could replace some of your paths with a surface that drains better, like gravel. For our brick paths we use a pressure washer on the moss before brushing in sharp sand, which reduces both moss and slipperiness.

 Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email monty.don@dailymail.co.uk. Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

A few years ago I visited Emirgan Park in Istanbul at the height of their tulip season (the last week of April), and marvelled at the millions of tulips planted in blocks of red, yellow, purple and white. 

Every bit as dramatic were the seven million tulips at Keukenhof in Holland, where they have one of the most stupendous floral performances in the world. The bulbs are planted by hand in autumn. 

Then, when the display is done, all seven million are dug up and disposed of – mostly fed to pigs. In sheer numbers, this puts my own array of tulips to shame but does not diminish it, as even a modest display is entrancing. 

I have primrose-coloured ‘West Point’ in my Spring Garden; the subtle yet exquisite grey-pink of ‘Mistress Grey’ in the Cottage Garden; the intense oranges and purples of ‘Ballerina’, ‘Texas Flame’, ‘Princess Irene’, ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Queen of Night’ in the Jewel Garden; and ‘Budlight’ and more ‘West Point’ on The Mound, fitting in with the yellow colour scheme. All are used year after year. 

But tulips, alas, cannot be relied on to appear again season after season on their own. The existing bulb dies away, and although new bulbs are created, they tend to be smaller, with fewer flowers. 

I have a system that makes the most of what are quite expensive bulbs. The new ones I buy in autumn are planted in pots so they can be positioned to appreciate the very best of them. 

I have ten very large pots that I plant with layers of three different kinds of tulips as ‘lasagnes’, each pot taking 60 bulbs for a dramatic ‘firework’ display. I also plant 40 pots each with a single variety. 

After flowering has finished, these are lifted so I can reuse the pots in summer, and are put into plastic pots to die back. The following November, they’re planted out into long grass to naturalise and become part of the mix of bulbs and wild flowers. 

However and wherever you grow your tulips, if you want them to flower the next spring, it is essential that you do not cut back, tie or in any way reduce the foliage or flower stems, but let them die back naturally as this will ensure the largest possible bulb for the next year..

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: ERYTHRONIUM 

Monty said erythronium (pictured) are at their best growing under trees where they like light, leafy soil in dappled shade

Monty said erythronium (pictured) are at their best growing under trees where they like light, leafy soil in dappled shade

Also known as dog’s tooth violets, these are at their best growing under trees where they like light, leafy soil in dappled shade. The petals are held on a tall stem and are reflexed back like a bonnet. 

The long bulbs – which, unusually, are planted with the pointed end facing down – are delicate and shrivel quickly so should be planted as soon as you get them in late summer. But they are easy to divide and replant immediately after flowering or, ideally, when the foliage begins to die back.

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