I planted nearly 300 tulips in my garden last fall, and all but 30 of them were hybrid tulips with beautiful and intriguing names like ‘Purissima’, ‘Yoko’s Dream’ and ‘Negrita’. Little did I know at the time, but the 30 inauspicious species tulips I planted along the edge of our new driveway border would be the most elusive tulips of them all.
These particular species tulips — Tulipa tarda — are a low-growing tulip native to rocky areas of central Asia. Generally considered a rock-garden or front-of-the border tulip, their star-shaped yellow and white flowers barely reach a few inches off the ground above strappy green foliage.
When the first buds emerged a week ago, I wasn’t sure how long it would take for them to fully open. The buds opened slightly, revealing the yellow of the flowers within the sepals. Both the sepals and foliage are edged with the thinnest stripe of maroon. For three consecutive mornings and evenings, I checked the buds and noted little progress.
Then on early Sunday afternoon, as I was laying a flagstone path nearby, I saw that the flowers were open. The sun was so bright, I decided to wait until later to photograph them for fear of washing out their color. When I returned with my camera later in the evening, the buds were once again closed. That’s when I realized that Tarda tulips close up for the night, much more tightly than their hybrid relatives.
When the work week resumed, I realized the only way I’d get to photograph the Tardas would be to come home over lunch and capture these beauties when they were strutting their stuff in the full sunlight. My initial fears about their color being affected by the bright sun were unfounded. They are one of the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever seen, simply glowing in the midday sun.
Each bulb produces multiple flower buds, creating a crocus-like bouquet.
Late today, I was able to capture the Tardas as they were closing for the evening, a unique combination of yellow, maroon and green.
As a species tulip, T. tarda has a huge advantage over hybrid tulips — it is a true perennial if given the proper growing conditions. Where hybrid tulips tend to peter out after a year or two in the garden, Tardas (as well as other species tulips) can come back year after year without fail. Hopefully I’ve given it the proper home, and I’ll be chasing the elusive Tarda Tulips for many years to come.