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The Independent Culture
TOWN dwellers are lucky. They can grow tulips. One of the disadvantages of country life is that their bulbs are the preferred food of pheasants and mice. There are various strategies for beating off the marauders, but I have not found that any of them works particularly well. Dipping each bulb in paraffin oil is often recommended as a deterrent, but this is a disagreeable job for a cold afternoon. Putting a few holly leaves around each bulb is another precaution which is not much fun to arrange. Spraying the area around the bulb with Reynardine, a foxy-smelling oil, is a last resort. It smells disgusting. A remedy that is kinder to gardeners, but much more repellent to predators, would be greeted with rapture. Tulips are the bulbs I love best, but last year the rout was almost total. Mice and pheasants consumed 90 per cent of the tulips ordered. This year, growing them in pots may be the only answer.

Those who are fortunate enough to have no tulip eaters around them should plant their bulbs as deeply as possible. On light soils and in sunny places, the depth of a spade (about 10 inches) is perfect for the large bulbs. Good drainage will keep them going for years, so gardeners on heavy soils will need to add grit to please them, but even so they are likely to lose the bulbs after a season. Lifting tulips after the leaves have faded is old gardening practice. Lovingly dried and stored, they can be revived to flower the following year - but this is a time-consuming job. At around pounds 15 for 100 (at wholesale prices) it is not extravagant to replace them annually. Split an order with friends if you want to choose more than one variety.

Late planting suits tulips, so they are the bulbs to leave till last. November is a good time; but they are an obliging enough bulb and do not seem to mind if they are put in at the end of October, or even at the beginning of December.

The earliest of the large flowers are the Single Earlies. "Generaal de Wet", soft orange and scented, is one of my favourites. "Bellona", a yellow, is scented too but a little taller so it often gets snapped by the wind. For those who are not afraid of colour, "Couleur Cardinal" is a pure scarlet. "Apricot Beauty" is for the more pastelly inclined.

The Double Earlies, which are short, are good in pots or window boxes. They include "Schoonoord", a white, and "Electra", a good cherry red. They flower around the middle of April and are followed by "Triumph", which is showy and often rimmed with a different colour from that of the petals. "Abu Hassan" is the most likely to cause comment, in mahogany brown with a golden edge, but there are masses to choose from.

The Darwins are very tall and I like them less. They suit park bedding better than small gardens. Cottage tulips, which flower later, in May, are probably more useful for the private gardener. Bluish violet "Greuze" and "Bleu Aimable" are good foils for the pale yellows of spring. "Queen of the Night" is velvet black, but "Shirley" and "Maureen" are better for those who prefer white to funereal shades. "Union Jack", with its strawberry stripes, is fun .

The Lily-flowered are the most elegant of all tulips. White "Triumphator" and "West Point" (a yellow) are never disappointing. "China Pink" is pretty and "Queen of Sheba" exotic. The Double Lates are more like peonies than tulips. "Angelique" is a frilly pink and "Carnaval de Nice" a gaudy crimson and white. The Viridifloras might not be everyone's choice, but their greeny-fringed petals are fascinating. "Humming Bird" is yellow with green streaks, "Spring Green" has white edges to the petals and "Artist" is pink and green. Parrots are the most flamboyant of all tulips. If you like their huge, fringed Dutch-painting style, you will want to choose them in every colour.

SUPPLIERS: Parker's, for wholesale or retail bulbs, 452 Chester Road, Old Trafford, Manchester, M16 9HL (0161 8723517). Mary Keen