Tulipa fosteriana itself comes from that legendary area around Samarkand. and reached the west at the beginning of the 20th century. Its potential as a reliable garden plant was soon recognised and by the middle of that century a whole range of cultivars and hybrids were available. All are characterised by large flowers on stiff stems above very broad, usually grey-green leaves. They are early flowering, at the end of March here in Somerset, and are remarkably long lasting. On our light sandy soil tulips tend to be rather ephemeral, only lasting a couple of years unless they are lifted after flowering. In contrast T. ‘Purissima’ has proved itself reasonably long lived- a tremendous bonus to a busy gardener with insufficient time to lift all the tulips every year. I must admit that in those years I do cheat and add a few new bulbs to ensure a good display.
One of my most successful plant associations came about by accident. Mixed or herbaceous borders always suffer from the recurring problem of where to squeeze in the bulbs. Not only is there physically little room between the exuberant clumps when you need to plant the bulbs, it is also very difficult to actually spot the gaps that were so glaring in the spring. I do try and make notes but this does not always happen and in sheer desperation one year, I was determined that I was going to use all the bulbs designated for the spring display, I dug two large, 8″dep holes. The ‘Purissima’ bulbs went in the bottom, followed by a light covering of soil then about 6 bulbs of Hyacinthus ‘Carnegie’ were placed on top and the holes filled in. Neither variety seemed to mind their proximity and the following spring the pure white hyacinths formed a lovely, scented base for the tulips. I often repeat this combination, varying it slightly by adding the creamy yellow H. ‘City of Haarlem’ instead. It also has the added advantage that the hyacinths continue flowering as the tulips fade.
Tulip ‘Purissima’ is not only excellent in borders it is also a perfect choice for traditional bedding schemes, mixed with winter flowering pansies. As the tulips are early flowering the pansies still look good, rather than past their best as is so often the case with this combination.
All in all T. ‘Purissima’ really is an excellent all rounder.
This article appeared in BBC Gardeners World
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